All Our Children
It’s been a minute since I stood on a fifty yard line.
The last time, come to think of it, I was probably wearing a horse head. Gallumphing around the football field as a mascot was as close as I got to being a high school athlete, and it felt surreal to be escorting the captain of the Savannah Arts Academy girls’ soccer team down the spray-painted white stripe.
My husband, on the other hand, felt right at home on the field, having spent his formative years as a legendary local soccer star (the evidence is available on VHS tape if you’d like to borrow it sometime.) In any case, both of us were trying not to cry.
After 14 years of cheering from the bleachers, we were at Senior Night, celebrating our daughter’s final season. Mark squeezed my elbow as we all crossed arms, her shoulders so much taller than when she first started sporting #11 on her uniform, when we could each take a hand and swing her high, just to hear her squeal with delight.
The breeze carried a shimmer of golden pollen as we walked slowly, each step taking us to the end of an era marked by evenings running practice drills in the front yard and peeling stanky socks rightside out before they went into the washing machine. I blinked back tears and resisted the mascot’s urge to prance as her athletic and academic accomplishments were read over the loudspeaker, though I may have thrown up a jazz hand or two to keep away the gnats.
With two graduations this spring—our oldest smartie is finishing his studies at UGA, too—our family is faced with the bittersweet blessing of becoming, well, something other than nuclear. Friends keep asking me how it feels to have an almost-empty nest, and I don’t have an answer to describe anticipating what I imagine to be the depressing excitement and liberating malaise of not having to provide clean laundry and snacks on a regular basis. My usual response is to shrug and look at the dogs, who will likely remain hungry and smelly for some time.
I’ve also been dumbfounded lately when well-meaning folks offer congratulations on raising these kids to full-baked maturity—as if growing up in Savannah, this village of righteous weirdos, generous teachers, iconoclastic creators, and excellent examples of humanness didn’t have everything to do with how they’ve turned out.
Ever since they first inched up the branches of the big oak in the circle park near their Montessori school, our children have had the experience of other eyes looking out for them, of pushing against the firm but forgiving boundaries of their community. As much of a drag as it’s probably been to grow up where everyone knows your name and will absolutely tell your parents that they saw on some other kid’s Snapchat that you were on Tybee when you were supposed to be sleeping over at your friend’s house, I believe it also fostered a sense of safety and belonging, even if it meant having your devices taken away for a month.
Our family has had the great fortune to share life with so many others, who surrounded our little ones the way elephants do as we’ve all moved forward together through time. You know who you are, and we are so grateful for that protected space where we kissed booboos and broken bones, where our son came out proudly at 14, where Mark and I will continue to cry and laugh and dance and drink as our children move away towards the centers of their own lives.
Like it or not, growth is the only direction there is, and it seemed correct to go from my last moments as a soccer mom and to rocking out with our girl two days later at the Soccer Mommy show at the Savannah Stopover Festival. The return of our homegrown bigtime music spectacular absolutely slayed within the bricked boundary of the Georgia Railroad Museum, and kudos to Kayne Lanahan, Caila Brown and the rest of the Stopover crew for setting a new stage for this world-class local experience.
I’ll leave the reviews to Larry Jack and Hissing Lawns, but standout performances by Donna Savage, Superhorse, Danielle Ponder, We Were Promised Jetpacks, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and Pylon Reenactment Society made me forget my mama melancholy—it had been two years since I’d felt my heart and bones thrum from a dose of good, loud, live music and it was time to dance! I took full advantage of the opportunity to release all the wild prancing suppressed during COVID, so apologies if I clipped you with an elbow in my mosh pit of one. Lawwwwd it felt good to get it all out, no matter how many ibuprofen softgels and Salonpas patches it takes to keep me upright this week.
Stopover’s multigenerational appeal also provided a chance to see the reach of our village in rocking action. I remember when the ferocious badasses of Basically Nancy used to climb the circle park oak in knee socks, and at least two very tall men of Little Gracie were once shrimps who carpooled in the back of the Absurdivan. It’s boggling to see them all grown into such cool, self-assured adults with so many tattoos, and as much as I’d like to think all us nerd parents up in their business helped hold space for their self-expression, it’s pretty obvious the talent is all their own. (For the record, I never snitched on anyone smoking weed next to the big oak.)
As the pollen comes down and the camellias wane to make way for a new season—we’ll pass through the Spring Equinox this Sunday, March 20—so must we. The thing about my almost-empty nest I keep thinking about—besides wondering who am I going to buy goldfish crackers and little individual tubs of dill pickles for now—is how to continue being part of the village without being someone’s soccer mom.
I believe my experience as an enthusiastic mascot is going to serve me well as I cheer on everyone else’s kids from the sidelines, though I promise to leave the horse head at home. I’ve also learned from the best of y’all that:
Kids benefit from the people in their community looking out for them, calling them by their chosen names, really SEEING them, not just smothering them with what we think they ought to be.
They need us not just to say GAY every day but to look them in their eyes and use their preferred pronouns and give them a hug when their parents and elders will not.
They need patience, generosity and a new stuffed animal or two when they arrive with their families in our community as refugees from Ukraine, Syria, Mexico, and so many other places so much less fortunate and free than our own.
And while I am not sorry to be done with our 16 year up-close-and-personal interaction with the clustercuss that is the Savannah-Chatham County School System, I cannot extol enough the importance of staying current with what is happening in our local schools. Even if you don’t have kids, today’s students are tomorrow’s citizens, and we all have a vested interest in how academic standards are upheld and who will be elected to the SCCPSS school board on May 24.
Basically, we are all elephants, OK?
Always cheering for all y’all ~ JLL
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