Most of the details from my high school graduation have long since faded. What remains is a yellowed diploma and a handful of underexposed pictures of me, sulking and uncomfortable, in an ugly polka-dotted dress.

Remembering my underwhelming high school commencement, it was a natural choice to skip my college graduation. Besides, I was ready to escape New York City and start my life in Austin.

When I completed my master’s program, I decided to give pomp and circumstance another try. At the last minute, the University of Texas moved the ceremony for the School of Social Work to the aquatic center – poolside.

It was like getting my diploma at a swim meet.

I married a person with a similar event aversion. Our wedding was an impromptu occasion, with one guest, in the park next to the courthouse.

My husband earned two degrees and attended neither of his graduations.

It’s not surprising that our firstborn, Leo, currently a Ph.D. student, has yet to wear a cap and gown.

In a moment of delusion, I entertained high hopes for our second child’s 8th-grade graduation. It was Eli’s first real ceremony test.

In hindsight, with our family history, the messy, stressful outcome was predetermined. I should have known better than to ask a leopard to change his spots.

Eli went on to boycott his high school graduation. Unless pressured by his girlfriend, I am certain that he will pass on all formal events when he completes his degree next year.

This spring, 3.7 million high school seniors, the Class of 2020, expected to walk across the stage in their caps and gowns.

My twin daughters are in that number.

Unlike their older brothers, who inherited the anti-ceremony gene, my daughters were looking forward to their high school graduation.

I have to admit, sheepishly, that there is a part of me that is relieved.

Planned celebrations make me twitch.

I wish I were one of those people who glide effortlessly through significant events while nimbly navigating introductions, small talk, toasts, and smiling for the camera.

More often than not, my most treasured days appear unexpectedly. However, weeks on end with our four, mostly-grown, children under the same roof, without scattering obligations, was downright unimaginable.

The year began with the exciting prospect of an empty nest. I was so ready, even a bit antsy, for the next stage.

Now, just a few months later, I feel incredibly lucky to be stacked on top of each other, with every square inch of the house and garage turned into bedrooms, classrooms, offices, gyms, and kennels for our old dogs and my son’s puppy.

The endless cooking and clean-up, the binge-watching, the underlying boredom, the half-hearted home workouts, and the White Claw and tequila round-table discussions have combined with the ever-present COVID worry and distraction to form a closure that I didn’t know I needed.

Sheltering-in-place has been a time-machine back to our young family’s rhythm of meals, simple outings, and shared space but with a fast-forward appreciation of being together.

Even the predictable flares of old grudges are balanced with newly forged forgiveness and understanding.

We are becoming friends.


We have graduated.

The Belly of the Whale

It has taken sixteen days, midway through the third week of sheltering-in-place, to relax into the boredom and let go of the guilt of being non-essential. 

To live in the belly of the whale as the tempest rages outside.  

It is the first time in almost a decade that all four of our children are living under the same roof for more than a brief holiday pitstop. 

When the chemistry is off, I try to remember that it will probably be the last time too.

Each morning I compile a list of things that give shape to the day and then submit to a blur of cooking, dishes, and endless puttering.

There are boxes and boxes of our lives in the downstairs closet to explore. It is grounding to stumble over many forgotten moments of happiness while sorting through the unnecessary and out-dated. 

Moments that had evaporated are now reconstituted. 

It gives me hope.

Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale   by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.

Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires

with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.

Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.

Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way

for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review

each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments

of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.

Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound

of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.

Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,

where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all

the things you did and could have done. Remember

treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes

pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.

I took the photo in the atrium of the Children’s Museum in Fort Worth.