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Four Weeks Ago – Graduation Parade

Four weeks ago, we were still in San Antonio…headed into our second day of graduation festivities.

After a good night’s sleep, we headed back to the base.  I was praying that the rain that had been forecast would stay away again.

I love the sight of sun rays peeking through the clouds. I think of them as God’s fingers reaching down to earth.

This day, a Friday, was the day families would see their Airmen in their dress blues during the Graduation Parade.  By the time we got there, and we thought we were arriving early, the stands were already filling up.  We weren’t sure where to sit…always the dilemma when a mama wants to get the best pictures of her baby.

Everyone took turns making trips to the bathroom.  Rooster’s girl and I took time out for a quick selfie…

You can see that the sky behind us was starting to clear up.

As more people arrived, a woman announced that there would be a practice parade.  Whew!  I sure was glad she said that because after the near-fiasco from the day before during what we’d thought was the Honor Grad Ceremony, knowing ahead of time that this wasn’t the real thing was much appreciated!

Practice!!

Eventually, we saw Airmen marching to the parade grounds.  They were a longgggggggg way off.  That field was humongous…larger than a football field.

I’d watched videos on YouTube, so I knew that they were marching from the dorms, quite a distance away, over a bridge, and toward us, their loved ones.

I used my camera to hunt for my boy, but I didn’t find him until the flights, led by flag bearers, formed up on the field.

Once again, I was glad I’d purchased my telephoto lens.  I was able to quickly locate Rooster.  Look at how incredible those men and women look.  I’ve always been partial to a man in a uniform.  This sight made my heart swell with pride, both as a mama and as an American.

The band played (did you know that the band during graduation consists of trainees placed in this special flight during their BMT training?), and other special maneuvers/marching drills were performed.  Then, the Airmen began marching across the field and past the bleachers.

Oh, y’all.  Once again, the tears are flowing as I’m looking at these pictures and recalling that morning.

I am a naturalized citizen.  I grew up in this country and became naturalized in 1997.

I’ve always had a special affinity for American history, have read dozens of historical novels, and took many history courses in college including a military history class for my history minor.

Watching this parade…the presentation of our national and state flags…the salute of our newly minted Airmen…their straight backs and perfectly-timed cadence…these sights made me grateful that I live in a country where others are willing to sacrifice everything to protect our freedom.

I walked to the end of my row in the bleachers so I could stand up without bothering anyone, and when my boy passed, you better believe that my camera was clicking away.

Isn’t it funny how God prepares you for little things?  I’d spent years taking pictures during Chicky’s soccer games…learned how to use the sports mode on my camera.  This knowledge came in handy during all of the ceremonies we attended during Rooster’s graduation.

I got quite a few pictures of my sweet guy.  Oh man, but did he look handsome!  Yes, we’d seen him in the button photo, but that did not do him justice.  His cap…his carefully pressed pants…new shiny shoes.

❤ ❤ ❤

There was, of course, a speech after the parade.  Then, there was the reciting of the Airman’s Creed.

Happy sigh.

I think I may have teared up again at this point.

And then…the words we were longing to hear…it was time to tap out our boy.  The Mr. and I were going to do the honors this time.

Rooster’s girl followed us, recording our Tap Out with the Mr.’s phone.

Oh y’all…the crowd.  It was CRAZY!  Families were rushing to get to their Airmen.  The Mr. was way too polite.  I would have shoved my way through like the Mama Bear that I am, but then again, I was raised in the South…i.e. Redneck Central.

Ahem.

We finally got to our boy, and oh man…the hugs.  Sure, they were a little sweaty because San Antonio has a humidity index of like 99.9% even in May…but who cares when it comes to hugging your child.

Rooster is such a sweet young man.  Once again, relief flooded his face.  “I was about to pass out,” he said.  Yeah, it was hot.

Project Tap Out Your Airman was now complete, and we had the REST OF THE DAY with our boy!

But first, the Dorm Open House.

During the Dorm Open House, loved ones are given a tour of the facilities where Airmen had spent the previous eight weeks.

It reminded me a lot of school open houses.

This room housed half of my son’s flight.  This was where he learned to make a bed properly and keep his belongings in order.

The first thing that struck me was how precisely his shoes were lined up.  Trainees are assigned jobs when they arrive at BMT.  One of those jobs is making sure shoes are lined up properly.  Oh yeah.  The Air Force is all about precision.

Look at the corners on this bed!  Rooster said he will never make his bed again after he gets out of tech school.

Every single thing has a certain place to go, including towels, PT clothes, and laundry bags.

Each trainee has a locker.  Clothes must be hung a certain distance apart.

Even their t-shirts and socks must be neatly rolled (the size of a soda can) and arranged in neat fashion!

Rooster got quite good at rolling shirts and traded his expertise for extra protein bars.  🙂

Each trainee has a locked security drawer that must also be kept in proper order.  They will earn demerits if things are out of place.

There was another room called the day room where briefings were held.  I saw this on one wall…

Rooster took us by the patio.  It was the place where his dorm got to call home, a benefit to being in “Alcatraz” as his dorm was called because of its age.  The newer dorms on base (known as Disneyland) don’t have the patios with pay phones; the older dorms do.  Trainees in the newer dorms have to go to the BX to call home…while waiting in line for the two or three phones that are there.  As you can see, Rooster’s patio area had a lot of phones.  His flight was very good about dividing up their free time into equal slots so everyone could call home.  The quality of the phone service was not great, but at least we still got to hear from our boy.

The next picture is the laundry room.  Rooster was the Laundry Chief, in charge of his flight’s laundry crew.  I got a good laugh when he first told us what his job was.  He’d been doing his own laundry at home for a number of years…back when he was in middle school even.  He’d been well prepared for this task and spent many, many hours in the room you see.  It was a great job and provided him with opportunities to study and write letters home while he was waiting for clothes to cycle through.

After touring the dorm, we were free to take Rooster off base for his town liberty.

What joy!!  This was the first time he’d left the base since he had arrived.  It was lunchtime, so we let him pick the place.  Where did he want to eat?  Panda Express!!!  It was right outside the base.

It was quite the experience, walking in with him dressed in his blues, for that was the uniform of the day.  I walked with my back a little straighter, so proud to be in the presence of this fine young man I’d raised…proud to show him off.

After lunch, we headed to the Riverwalk.  I had taken Rooster and Chicky to visit my dad many, many years ago, and we had flown into San Antonio and done Riverwalk, so I was a little familiar with it.  Visiting it again with my grown son was even more special.

There was a very large mall along the Riverwalk.  It provided respite from the heat and humidity. I was struck by the people who thanked my son for his service as we passed by.  Quite a few of them offered their congratulations.  San Antonio is a place that appreciates the military, let me tell you.

We made our way to the Riverwalk below street level and signed up for a boat tour…a must-do activity if you’re in San Antonio.

Our tour guide was a hoot and kept us in stitches the entire time.  He provided a lot of historical information about the various hotels, restaurants, and other buildings along our route.

Look at the gargoyles on the next building!

I loved the flags that adorned the end of the boat…

The mural on the next building (I think it was a fine arts center) was incredible!

After the boat tour, we decided to visit the Alamo, which was right off of the Riverwalk.

There is no fee to enter, if you can believe that.

We found a lush green area outside of the Alamo and snapped a few photos after we had toured inside.  Those are some of my favorite pictures, my Airman son looked so handsome.

We were hot and tired after the Alamo, so we headed back to the hotel for a brief rest.  Rooster took a short nap on the couch.  One of the things that most Airmen want during graduation is sleep.  Watching him rest made me tear up, as I am right now just writing this (yes, I’ve become a blubbering fool, I fear).  Do you remember watching your babies sleep when they were little?  I have a secret to share with you.  When they are grown and wearing an Air Force uniform, you still get emotional watching them sleep.  Gosh, but I love my kids.

Anyhoo…

After he woke up, we left for our next adventure.  Graduating Airmen are granted one late night, upon prior approval, during a town liberty to attend one of two events that have been agreed upon beforehand.  Rooster had the choice of attending a WMBA game on Friday night or a minor league baseball game on Saturday night.  Because of the dire weather predictions, he’d selected the basketball game because it would be inside.  Although he was tired, he didn’t want to miss the chance to spend more time with us.

What a fun experience!!!  I’d never been to a professional basketball game before.  We saw several new Airmen at the game, and I was, again, moved to tears during the national anthem when I saw, for the first time, my boy saluting the flag.

I looked around and saw all of the uniform-clad men and women doing the same thing.

I’d never paid much attention to that before.  It will never go unnoticed again.  These men and women will forever salute the flag, even after they retire.  It’s become a part of who they are.

The game itself was so much fun!!  Everything about it, from the music to the crowd to the videos displayed on the large screen in the middle made this night a memorable one.

One little girl in the crowd went nuts when she saw herself on the big screen, and boy, did that girl dance for the camera.  It was hysterical!!!  Her mom sat behind her with her hands over her eyes.  Priceless.

I snapped a selfie of myself, Rooster, and his girl.  He raised one of his eyebrows in the picture…so classically my Rooster…every the comedian.  One of my fears when he left for BMT was that he would lose part of who he was.  I was afraid that the harsh training would scour away that part of his personality.  My fears were for nothing, for he was the same sarcastic yet loving son he’d been before he walked away from the car that April day.

He was exhausted when we took him back to the base.  The boy had been conditioned to going to bed by 9pm each night, and it was about 10:00.

Dropping him off was easy again, for I knew I’d get to see him the next day.  It’s funny how a mama’s heart rests much easier when she knows that her babies are in the same city.  I don’t remember dreaming about anything that night.  I just remember that I slept soundly for the second night in a row.

Four Weeks Ago – The Coin Ceremony

Four weeks ago, I woke up at o’dark thirty to begin one of the most emotional days of my life.

It was going to be the first time I’d seen and hugged my boy in eight weeks.

I carefully dressed, having picked out my clothes the night before.  “N” and I put on the pins I’d ordered a few weeks before.  These pins had our boy’s photo on them…the first look we’d gotten of him in his dress blues.  Trainees get their official photos taken during either week three or week four (I can’t remember which now).  Many people order the pins to wear during graduation as a show of support.

For the purposes of my boy’s safety, I’ve pixelated his photo.  🙂

As we ate breakfast in the hotel lobby, we saw others there.  They were obviously headed to the same place we were, their t-shirts evidence of the upcoming festivities that they, too, would be attending.

We had all of the things we would need for the day…camera, umbrella, and other essentials I’d heard would be good to have on hand.

We headed out.  It was dark, but our hearts were light.

The anticipation, y’all.

We arrived in record time and waited outside the Reception Center in a longgggggg line to get in.  The Reception Center is host to family and spouse briefings that give overviews of what the Airmen have been doing, what to expect during graduation weekend, and other bits of information for later.

We could see which heritage flights our Airmen had been placed into (different from the flights they’d been training with).  Heritage flights are named after notable Air Force people.  Airmen are placed in these flights according to the jobs they will be training for, and this is how loved ones can locate them during graduation exercises.  We already knew which flight Rooster was in because he’d told us during one of his phone calls home the prior week.

We had decided to attend the 7am briefing.  As we waited in our seats, clips from a BMT (the abbreviation for Basic Military Training) video were showing.  The video included snippets of newly arrived trainees getting the infamous haircuts, the first and second issuing of uniforms, and other glimpses into their training.

After that, we were treated to lots of information about photos, insurance, and other things I’ve since forgotten.

The most important thing we got was a hard copy of the schedule and a map of the heritage flights.  These would become as valuable as Siri during our weekend.

One of the cool things about the Reception Center was that when the briefing was over, the large windows in the front of the room we were in opened up, and we were able to walk out onto the course that would play host to the Airman’s Run, the Honor Grad Ceremony, and the Coin Ceremony.

Yes, y’all, it was going to be a busy morning!

As we walked out, I led our party to the spot I’d picked out for the run.  I had spent over two months reading posts in my support group (I mentioned this group in yesterday’s post).  I knew the best place to stand to see my boy.

Oh, but maybe I should first explain what the Airman’s Run is.

So, what happens with the run is that the Airmen run in with the flights they’ve been training with for the past eight weeks.  They wear either their flight shirts, which have a specific color and logo for each flight, or their PT shirts.  Most wear the flight shirts, which makes it easy to spot your loved ones.

As they run into the stadium area, those watching start yelling.  The Airman are singing their Jodies (military songs to keep them in tempo).

I’d seen the videos that other parents had posted in my support group each week, so I thought I knew what to expect.

Let me tell you…watching those videos and experiencing the run for myself…these were two completely different things.

I’m going to post the videos that the Mr. took below, but you have to understand that they don’t convey both the excitement and the pride that filled our hearts.  I imagine that this must be what it’s like to experience an Olympic event.

Yes, folks, it was that incredible.

Everyone yelled for every Airman.  We knew what they had accomplished…the angst of walking into an unknown world…getting yelled out by MTIs (military training instructors) whose only goal was to shape their charges into those worthy to wear the Air Force emblem…long security details…BEAST week…classes in weaponry and military history, with an end of course exam at the end…a final PT exam…expectations of loved ones back home…so much emotion wrapped up in that first opportunity to see one another, if only for a second.

Here are the videos (please excuse the woman standing to my right in the first video…she was a little cray-cray…LOL).

It was a little nerve-wracking…hunting for our boy.  They all looked alike!  We finally found him though.

Airmen run in, run past the stands that are arranged in a semi-circle, and then double back for a second pass (my video below).  Rooster caught the Mr.’s eye as he passed by the second time and gave a slight smile, which I have in a still shot I captured from the video.

The run was over much quicker than I wanted, but these men and women were headed back to their dorms to shower and change into their ABUs (camo) for the two ceremonies ahead.

While they prepared themselves, we secured seats in the stands.  I posted updates and photos in my support group and got to meet other moms I’d talked to online.  Hugging their necks and sharing the day with the people who I’d cried with the past few weeks was so special.  Technology is often blamed for the bad things in this world; however, these meet-ups would never have happened without it.  Strong bonds had been forged.  Forever bonds.

I also prayed that the rain would not come.  There had been dire weather predictions…lots of rain in the forecast…but I’d been praying all week that the rain would stay away.  Ceremonies can get cancelled or moved when it rains.

Around 10am, something very special happened.  We saw a small group of Airmen, in their ABUs, start marching across the concourse.  It was, we thought, the Honor Grad Ceremony.  We were upset, though, because Rooster’s girl was inside at a briefing.  Ok.  Actually, we were mortified that she was missing it.  It was strange, though, because their names weren’t announced, and it seemed…well…underwhelming for such a special occasion.  Coincidentally, N texted me during the “ceremony” and asked if I’d seen Rooster.  I had to confess that we were sitting in the Honor Grad Ceremony.  She was horrified and rushed out of her briefing to join us.  Yeah, we were mad.

This story ends well, though.

Let me back up a second though.  First of all, you have to understand what it means to be an Honor Grad.  This is a very special designation, awarded to only 10% of those who graduate from Basic Training.  It has stringent requirements…a high score on the PT (physical training) evaluation…a high score on the EOC…a certain number of points during inspections (demerits take away from the points)…recommendations from MTIs.  An Honor Graduate is awarded a ribbon that that will be worn for the rest of the Airman’s career.  Yeah.  It’s a big deal.

In addition, Honor Graduates get a town pass the Sunday of graduation weekend…more time off base with loved ones.

They are recognized during a special ceremony.

Rooster had set his sights on this award in the early days of Basic Training.  We knew he was smart enough.  We also knew that there would be tough competition for this coveted designation.

Well, y’all, he had called us the afternoon before…shortly after we had settled in the hotel…and shared that HE HAD MADE HONOR GRAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think other hotel visitors could have heard us yell out in joy.

There were quite a few in his flight who had earned this award.  He’d had a terrific crew during training.  They’d all pushed each other and worked together to receive extra patio time, which meant extra phone calls home, and other designations.

He really wanted that town pass too.  I’d like to think he’d been missing his mama.  The truth is that he’d been missing his girl the most.  I can’t blame him.  She’s rather sweet; they are good for each other.

And so it was that we sat during what turned out to be PRACTICE for the Honor Grad Ceremony.  Whew!  I later deleted the pictures I’d been taking.

At 10:30 on the dot, we saw drummers.

As they started playing, the Honor Grads began filing out.  The stands were full by this time.  THIS was the real Honor Grad Ceremony.

We watched as our Rooster marched out.

Oh y’all…how I wished I could run out and hug his sweet neck, but he was all business…his face set firmly as he’d been taught.  Everything was about maintaining military bearing.

They stopped, turned in unison, and waited while their names were called out (this was something that had not been done during “practice”).  Each Airman stepped forward.  The crowd waited to applaud so each name could be heard.

Then, the top graduating Airman was announced.  It was a young man from Rooster’s flight!!!!!  What an amazing guy.  We had the honor of meeting him later and ran into him several times during the weekend.  He was humble; his family simply delightful.  He’d changed his life around so much from when he was a teenager, his mom told me.  Rooster genuinely respected him.

The Honor Grads marched out to quickly join their heritage flights, and shortly thereafter, all of the flights began marching in.

The MTIs wore the brimmed hats…very intimidating looking…

With the help of my new telephoto lens, I quickly located Rooster.  I took a LOT of pictures…especially while the Airmen were getting coined.  The coin signifies an Airman’s official graduation.  It’s very similar to a diploma.  Airmen can get coined for a number of reasons and by different people.  Rooster got coined twice…once for graduation and again for his Honor Grad status.

During the coining, music played overhead.  I started crying when I heard Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”  Watching my Rooster accept his coin and hearing the words in this song made for one proud mama.

After the coining, there was a special, special moment…the reciting of the Airman’s Creed.

Y’all.  These words.  They will forever make you grateful for those serving in the military…their willingness to sacrifice EVERYTHING for their country.

Right at the end of the coining, an Air Force plane flew overhead…an impromptu fly-over…

I was also growing eager.  My arms were twitching.  I need to hug my boy!  First, though, there was other business to be taken care of…the lowering of the flag.  The lowering of the flag marks the end of the working day.  That, in itself, was powerful to watch…the precision…the respect.

And then…the moment every single person had been waiting for…

TAP OUT!!!!!!!!

I’m not talking about the tap out that ultimate fighters do to say they’ve had enough.

I’m talking about what happens when Airmen are standing at parade rest and a loved one releases the Airman by tapping them/touching them/hugging them.

Google for videos.  I have my own, which I can’t share because I’ve been asked to keep my boy safe.

This moment…it is the most longed-for and one of the most emotional of the entire weekend.

There are actually two tap outs…one after the Coin Ceremony and the other after the Graduation Parade on Friday.

We’d agreed to allow Rooster’s girl to have the first tap out.  Our video, which friends and family have seen on Facebook, show her leading the way with me pulling on her purse strap to slow her down.  I had my phone out to take pictures, and the Mr. followed and videoed on his phone.

The reunion…in the midst of the other Airmen standing in formation…I have a whole new respect for families who have loved ones serving in the military.  The separation is hard; the joy when you see your family member is indescribable.

It’s a moment I will never forget.

Rooster’s face when he saw his girl…her head buried in his chest…oh my.

He quickly left the ranks to allow other Airmen space to hug their loved ones, and I dropped everything to hug my precious son.

I’m crying as I type this.  The memories are as fresh as if this hug had happened just moments ago.

My tall, camo-clad son had grown in stature.  His strong arms wrapped around me, and he patted me on the back as I clung to him and then kissed his cheek.

“Y’all are crazy,” I heard him say afterward.

I chuckled.

Yes, we were.  We were crazy proud of him!!  We’d been crazily missing him.  We were crazy-happy to be in his presence again.

We began to make our way to the Reception Center.  Rooster stopped many times to congratulate fellow Airmen.

You could see the relief on his face.

We now had our boy for the ENTIRE day for base liberty!  What that meant was that we could go anywhere with him on base…he could ride in the car with us…but we couldn’t leave the base.  Not a problem!  He had not seen much of the base because trainees weren’t allowed to go certain places.

He had to run an errand first, so we took him there first.  I think we then went to lunch at the Gateway Club, which served in a cafeteria-style setting.  The decor of the club was posh…so fancy.  It was the first chance we’d had to really talk to Rooster, and it was his first real chance to sit and eat slowly.  What a joy to be eating a meal with him!  You take such things for granted until those times are taken away from you.

Later, we visited a museum.  It has a large flag that is a photo op for many.  We also took photos in front of it, my boy’s closely shaved head something I was still getting used to.  The boy left with a head full of hair.

We also made our way to a couple of different BXs.

One was located at the mini-mall beside his dorm.  I loved driving around base with him while he played tour guide.

The following picture was his dorm.  I found it strange that it was built up on stilts, so to speak.  Trainees do a lot of drills underneath the barracks; the shade provides much needed respite from the weather, be it high temperatures or heavy rain.

We saw trainees walking around…some in two’s and three’s…others in full groups.  Rooster could tell which week many of them were in.  Trainees are paired with wingmen…other trainees who have their six, so to speak.  They cannot walk anywhere without a wingman.  Rooster grew close to his wingman.  His family was just lovely; the young man a gem of a guy.

I took this photo of the water tower because it had the Air Force name on it…another reminder of where we were.

While we were at one of the BXs, we purchased a new pair of boots for Rooster…a combo graduation/birthday gift.

Most new Airmen buy new boots.  The ones they are issued for BMT are extremely heavy.  The ones we bought Rooster (he would later take these back after we bought him a nicer pair off base) were uber-comfortable.  He was pleased.

We visited one of the larger BXs on base and had a lot of fun just being normal with our boy.  He was pretty tired but hung tough.

As we walked around, I was touched by other trainees we would cross paths with…the respect they showed toward my boy…them saying, “Congratulations, Sir.”  Just wow.

We ate dinner at the BX…fast food, which was fine…and basically just enjoyed our boy.  There wasn’t a lot to do.  Even though the base had a bowling alley and a movie theater, we followed Rooster’s lead and acquiesced to his requests.  The weekend was all about him.

The day passed quickly, and before we knew it, we had to bid farewell to our boy.  This goodby was easy, though, because we would be seeing him again the next day.

I slept better that night than I had in months.  I was a completely happy but exhausted mama.

A Girl, Her Cleats, a Diploma, and a Single Tear

Friday evening, I had the honor of watching my girl graduate, with honors, from Southeastern University.

The ceremony was held at a large, impossible to navigate to, church in Lakeland (Siri thought it was on I-4 instead of just off of it).

The church was festive, decorated with Christmas lights, wreaths, and trees.

This graduating class consisted of about 192 young people.

Southeastern University is a Christian college that walks the talk it puts forth.  Every part of the commencement ceremony honored God, from the opening prayer, to the congregational hymn, to the speeches that were given before diplomas were awarded.

Quite honestly, this didn’t feel like a college graduation but a Sunday morning worship service.

It was warm and cozy, with graduates sitting in the first few rows and supportive family and friends sitting behind them.

Chicky’s best friend, M, drove from UCF, the college she attends, to watch Chicky graduate.  She’s a lovely young woman whom we’ve had the privilege of knowing for almost ten years.  She and Chicky played travel soccer together for most of those years and only separated when their college paths put them an hour away from each other, playing for different schools.

We consider her a member of the family, so it was with great joy when she sat beside us.

I thought I wasn’t going to cry during the ceremony, but when the music started, and I saw Chicky walk down the aisle, a single tear escaped and rolled down my cheek.

I couldn’t help it.  It was a tear full of pride in my beautiful daughter…for all she had dreamed for and accomplished through hard work and sheer determination.

M and I had quite the fun during the proceedings, let me tell you, and whispered conspiratorially about what we would do when it was Chicky’s turn to walk across the stage.

It wasn’t long before her time came, and it was with great pleasure that I hollered when her name was read.

Chicky, ever the clown, made one of her silly faces and put her hands in the air while making some sort of gesture, the kind of cool gesture that only young folks look good doing, and walked across the stage…

All the while sporting her favorite shoes…

Her soccer cleats.

It was a plan hatched by her and K, Chicky’s roommate and teammate for the last three years.

Mary, K’s bonus mom, took photographs of the girls as they walked back from the stage…

My Chicky is on the right.

Please take a moment to inspect the length of Chicky’s graduation gown.

She, being Little Miss Know-It-All, decided, when ordering her gown, that she’d better go up to a 5’6″ one because she was planning on wearing heels.

Folks, the girl is only 5’2″.

When she tried on the gown before leaving her house, it nearly reached the floor.  It was also extremely spacious around the shoulder and torso area.

It would seem that 5’6″ people are a little bigger in other places too.

What Chicky failed to realize was that no matter if she was wearing heels or not, her body would remain the same size, and that gown would hit her body in the same way it would if she were wearing heels, slides, or soccer cleats.

Please note that the women in my family aren’t exactly known for our common sense.

Ahem.

Regardless, it was a marvelous evening filled with a lot of laughter.

K’s family is precious.  Chicky is so fortunate to room with a gal who has supportive family.  I feel as though our family keeps growing with every friend Chicky invites into her life, and we are blessed for that.  K’s family treats Chicky like one of their own.

Thus, it was no surprise that we went out to eat together afterward, extra friends tagging along.

The Mr.’s parents were also at Chicky’s graduation, able to watch the first of their grandchildren obtain a post-secondary degree.

This morning, before we began our drive home, we met Chicky and K at Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  It was one last chance to see the girls; we shared a time of sweet conversation and more laughter.

I snapped photos, which Chicky agreed to with a minimal amount of complaining.

Mary, K’s bonus mom, later commented (after I texted one to her) that the girls looked older today.

Yes, they sure did.

Although Chicky has been teaching for over a month now, and K will begin working on her Masters degree in January, both girls have firmly planted their feet into the adult world.

It feels strange to say that I am the mother of a college graduate.

I don’t feel old enough, that’s for sure, and I’ve been told I don’t look old enough either (these same people have never seen me before I put on my makeup).

All I know is that I give all of the glory to God, for it wasn’t me who reared a successful child…not on my own, that is…but God’s grace that allowed me to, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Pomp and Circumstance

It’s hard to believe it, but as you are reading this, I am on my way to South Florida to watch my Chicky cross a stage once again.

This time, we are honoring her as she officially graduates from college with a degree in Elementary Education.

She’s been finished for over a month and has been teaching that long as well, but this ceremony is extremely important as it provides closure to four years that went by in a flash.

It seems like only a short time ago when I bid her a very tearful farewell the first August I left her at Southeastern.

You might remember that post.

It was so difficult to watch her walk into her future, uncertainties abounding, and so many hours away from me.

She bravely took those steps and each and every one that followed.

Some were easy and fun, while others were much more difficult.

Her first semester was certainly a challenge as she adjusted to a rigorous soccer schedule and academic classes that would kick anyone’s behind.

She hung in there, faced each obstacle with grace, and finished her program a semester early.

I don’t know that I’ll cry as she accepts her diploma tonight because, unlike the tentative steps she made four years ago as she entered the unknown, she’ll be crossing the stage with confident strides…the walk of a young professional, fully prepared to do the task now in front of her.

I am so thankful for the last four years, the wonderful college where she spent them, and the people she met along the way – each day…each experience a gift from the Lord.

Chicky,

As you walk down that aisle, and as you make your way across the stage, I hope you know that I am so proud of you for finishing what you started.  You are a goal-oriented young woman and always accomplishes what you set out to do.

I am grateful for the good decisions you have made…for the promises you kept to yourself and to God…for the young adult you’ve become along the way.

I love you with all of my heart.

<3,

Mama

Chicky is a Graduate!

It’s 12:36am, and I really should be in bed.

I do, after all, have to sub in seven hours.

However, I am still decompressing from the highlight of the school year…

Chicky’s graduation…

But let’s back up a bit.

A lot of stuff happened before the cap-throwing moment shown above.

First off, Chicky got up and went for a run.  She’s working out every day to get in shape for college soccer.

Afterward, she went to the pool to cool off and relax.

I ran errands, getting $29.95 worth of BBQ pulled pork for free and two cans of shaving creme for $1.02.

Cha Ching!

The day progressed…Chicky did the usual girlie things to get ready for the event that would mean lots of photo ops.  She straightened her hair and dressed up.

Of course, what graduation is complete without a little drama.

I had a breakdown, and no, it was not a “I’m sad because my precious child is graduating and leaving home soon” kind of cry.

No, it was just my usual self, having a melt-down after being stressed.  Chicky tends to pick up on my stress, and between the two of us, there are fireworks when I’m in this kind of mood.

I got “emo,” as the kids like to call it, had a good cry, and called a friend (thank you, Rabbitrescuer).

Then, I pulled up my big girl panties, wiped the tears from my eyes, and fixed grilled cheese sandwiches for my nephews, who had just driven in with Super Sis, Super D, and my mom.

I left home early to get in line at the stadium, and I learned a lesson.

When Rooster graduates, I’m leaving an hour earlier.  The line snaked away from the stadium through the parking lot.

Chicky’s best friend met me there, and when administrators made an announcement that they were opening a side gate, we made a run for it.  She later confessed to Chicky that I was leading the way (Chicky figured I had been left in the dust).

See, I knew where I wanted to sit.

I’d done my homework…scoped out the land and knew how things would be set up.

Plus, I needed to save a mere 14 seats.

Yeah.

It got a little ugly.

It’s one thing to save two or three seats, but quite another to save two entire rows of a football stadium.

I emptied out my purse/knitting bag of everything imaginable to represent bodies, and then BFF and I guarded our spots.

Finally, the rest of the family arrived, and we began stretching out, as more members of the group arrived.

Now, graduations should be happy times.  We’re all happy for each other, right?

Some lady must have eaten something that did not agree with her, because she gave Coupon Queen, who is among the sweetest, most Southern ladies around, a hard time!

The woman did not want our stadium seats to knock into her legs, and she demanded we leave the seats in front of her vacant.

For real?  This is like church.  You cram together, and you don’t complain.

Well, as I later found out, the woman went so far as to accuse Coupon Queen of acting like a kindergartner.

Real mature, eh?

To his credit, the woman’s husband seemed embarrassed and was most apologetic.

Nevertheless, I moved my party slightly over.

Anyhoo…

We kept ourselves busy, admiring the setup on the field…

Finally, at 7:30, the seniors lined up, waiting to take the field…

The speeches were short and light-hearted, which surprised my crew, who expected much more serious words of wisdom.  The graduates sat politely…

Finally, we got to the part of the program that offered my main reason for being there…to hear my Chicky’s name called out.

As she lined up, I got my camera ready…

And then, just as her name was called, a man who had been sitting near me, got up and walked right in FRONT of me!!!!

I could see him coming, and as I recorded, I said, “No, no, no…”

But yes, yes, yes.  He sure did.  Blocked my view, got me disoriented, and when I tried to resume filming, I lost momentum.

Or rather, I lost my Chicky.

But it took me a half a minute to realize it.

In the meantime, I started filming the wrong child.

I followed a girl all the way down the stage’s stairs, and when I saw her shoes, I realized my error.

Chicky had purchased high wedges for the event.  This girl had dark flats.

I heard myself exclaim over my mistake (and the video clearly captures my oopsies).

I tried to find her, panning over the students, before finally, finally spying her, coming back my way…toward her seat on the field.

All was not lost.

People, seriously, check around you before getting up during a ceremony like this.  Make sure it’s not a bad time for someone else.  Throw up in your shoe of you must, but do not, I repeat, do not cross in front of a mama with a camera when her baby is about to cross the stage at graduation.

Consider yourself warned.

After the names were called, a couple more short speeches were given, and then the class sang the alma mater for the last time, gathering together in front of the stage…

And then it was over.

We found Chicky and took a couple of family pictures before saying our goodbyes to Super Sis and her crew.

Then, I played the part of Chicky’s Personal Photographer and followed her around, snapping photos with this friend and that friend (and her back, just for fun)…

I had wanted a semi-profile shot for the blog, but she wasn’t cooperating.  Instead, I got you a full-on back view of her graduation cap hair.  See the line across the back?  heehee

We ended our evening by eating at Bonefish Grill…

The food and service (even at the late 10pm hour) were wonderful.

Chicky is, at this moment (of writing, that is) at Project Graduation.  This is the safer alternative the school provides for seniors…instead of having them attend graduation parties after.  The school buys and gets donated goods to give out as prizes throughout the night.  It’s like a lock-in.  The doors lock at 12pm and runs until 5am.  If the kids leave, they’re done for the night.  But, there’s incentive to stay later as the best prizes are handed out right before the party is over.

Chicky is hoping for a good prize…maybe a mini-fridge or a television set.

I’m headed to bed.  I will be subbing for the Senior class sponsor, who is actually working Project Graduation, and I will have three Spanish classes to tend to.

I’m afraid my hola will be spoken in a tired, but happy way.

Oh, and for the record, I did not cry during the ceremony.  I had no desire to!  It truly was a light-hearted, fun event.  Plus, after my pitty party earlier, I was cried-out.

Just thought I’d share.

Chicky’s Last Day of School

Today was Chicky’s last day of school.

As I drove in to sub, I couldn’t help but compare it to her first day of kindergarten.

Parents were allowed to walk the kids in on that first day.

I remember looking at those tiny chairs and looking at Chicky, who was a tiny thing herself.  She would be entering a room of total strangers, and I felt bad.

Would she make friends?  Would she eat the lunch I packed?  Would she be able to find her way to the bathroom?

I waited eagerly in the car loop line that afternoon, and when I saw my baby emerge from the school, I saw a huge smile on her face.

Her day had been wonderful.

Her second day was almost as traumatic (for me) as the first day.  The school administrators cut the parents off cold-turkey, requiring us to drop off our children in the car loop.

Oy!

But, there were older students standing there, acting as monitors, assisting the younger ones as they tried to make their way to classes.

It was a huge lesson in trust, as I let her go…into the still-somewhat-unknown.

Thirteen years later, I stand poised to do the same again.

Contrary to what most people expect, I do not think I will cry.  I did that already at the soccer banquet.

No.

This time, I will let her go a bit easier, knowing that she walked out of that school today as a confident young woman.

She knows that the most valuable friendships aren’t necessarily with the popular girls, who wound up treating her the worst during the last two years.

Most importantly, Chicky has a faith that most young people do not have at her tender age.

Her priorities seem to be in order.

It’s almost time to let my Chicky fly.

Playing Catch-Up

I love blogging, I really do.

It just seems like it has been hard to find the time the last few days!  So, I’m making this a catch-up post.

As you know, last Friday capped off a two-week AP Exam frenzy.

The way the exams work is that all exams usually have two sessions, with two exams being administered, per a national schedule, each day.  Session 1 is around an hour.  Then, students and proctors are given a ten-minute break.  Session 2 then begins, and it lasts anywhere between one hour and two and a quarter hours.

I think my rear end has wood grain marks from the non-cushioned chairs I was planted on (when I wasn’t walking around on patrol).

Exams were administered around 8am and 12pm.  Sometimes, we had only seven minutes between tests – not a lot of time for lengthy breaks, although everyone managed to get small breaks thanks to wonderful, thoughtful school administrators.

A few of the AP teachers provided their students and us proctors with snacks…

Bags contained such goodies as these…

Oh yeah.  I think this was my favorite goody bag…loads of chocolate…my favorite!

Although proctoring was not physically tiring, I was mentally wiped out each afternoon.

Hence my retreat into brain cell oblivion this past weekend.

The Mr., Soccer Chick, Rooster, and Guy Friend went to see a movie on Saturday.

I chose to stay home, relishing the quiet.

Honestly, I cannot remember what I did.

Oh wait.

I remember.

I did NOTHING.

So lazy…that’s what I was.

It was d-i-v-i-n-e.

Sunday was busy, though.

My church had Senior Recognition Day.  Coupon Queen and Grand Pooba drove over to share in the day’s festivities.

Chicky was asked to speak before one of the services.

She did a lovely job, sharing how her relationships with her youth-group friends have been one of the main things that has kept her from the secular pitfalls that fellow students of her’s have fallen victim to.

She was well-spoken and never once said, “Um.”

I was very proud of her.

After church, we attended a luncheon in the fellowship hall.  Younger members of the youth group served us.  The food was delicious…prepared by the same gentleman who cooked Chicky’s high school soccer team’s pre-game meals.

After a short visit with the in-law’s, they left.

Chicky departed for some place that I can’t remember.  She’s had so many engagements lately that they are all starting to run together.

Meanwhile, Rooster and I headed back to church to a farewell reception for my associate pastor and his family.

I sure am going to miss this amazing little group of people.  The wife was my Bible Study leader, and her husband is simply one of the most gifted young men I’ve ever had the honor of listening to.  Their new church is very blessed to be welcoming them into its fold.

I left Rooster at church so he could attend youth group, and I headed home to watch the Survivor Finale.

Take a look at the following picture…

Do you see Russell’s face?

That’s the face of exasperation…or rather the look that one gets after taking a bite of Humble Pie.

He had to sit and listen to Jeff pull out vote after vote for Sandra and Parvati, when all along, he was sure that he was going to win this time.

Fortunately for smart, non-flirty-to-get-ahead girls everywhere, Parvati did NOT win either!

I love the way Sandra played the game.  She was smart, recognizing the troll that was disguised as Russell, and hung in there.

Nice girls do finish first sometimes!

Next, I watched the newest installment of Celebrity Apprentice.

A couple of seasons ago, I promised myself that I would not watch another episode.

Donald Trump is such a pompous man!  Ugh.  Dirty-minded too.

However, I allowed myself to be sucked in.

I love challenges and watching as people rise, or fall (as the case may be) to the occasion.  I’d like to think that I would do well in these challenges too.  Heck, I’m a mom.  Winning challenges is the name of the game that’s called Motherhood.

But I digress.

I’m rooting hard for Holly Robinson Peete, who’s playing for her autism charity.

Monday morning came all too quickly.

I had a subbing job for Rooster’s English teacher.

Yay, him.

Seriously.

He’s a good sport.  We tend to ignore each other when I am his teacher.

Today was an important one for the seniors at the school.

Their caps and gowns were ready to be picked up.

I brought Chicky’s home and hung it up for her…

Graduation is May 1st…two days after Rooster turns 16.

Yeah.  I know.

I have an eventful two weeks ahead of me, eh?

I mean, in addition to the above, Dancing With the Stars will have its finale, as will 24, Celebrity Apprentice, and Flash Forward.

Sigh…

:::AuburnChick fans herself:::

Oh well.  Might as well get a bunch of stuff out of the way at the same time, eh?  Nothing like being efficient!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

My closet-cleaning chore led to an unexpected trip down memory lane when I discovered a VHS tape in one of the boxes.

At first, I gave it a cursory glance and started to close up the box.  However, I decided to take a closer look and discovered writing on the sleeve…”Graduation.”

Ok.  Think now.

VHS tape.

Graduation.

Could we be talking my graduation?  Especially when I was looking at the spines of my high school yearbooks, which were packed in the same box.

I almost ran to the living room, where our VCR is located.

I called the kids in and told them that I thought we were in for a treat.

We were.

It WAS the video from my high school graduation!

Folks…you don’t know how big this was.

You see, just last week, my sister had pulled out a video from when our children were toddlers.  She called me, and we laughed as she told me how twangy her voice was.

We grew up in the Heart of Dixie…LA.  No, not Los Angeles but Lower Alabama where twangy is the only speak you speak, so to speak.

What strange timing that I would find this video shortly after her own last week.

The kids knew that I was Salutatorian of my class…hence Your’s Truly had given a speech.

We sat in anticipation.

The first chuckle came when the kids saw me begin the short walk to the football field.  My hair was almost the same as it is now…a lot blonder (naturally) but just as curly and long.

I watched the camera pan out to my classmates.

Oh gosh…I got a little emotional here.

Chicky commented that it was weird to see me at that age.  I reminded her that I was only six months older, on that tape, than she is now.

Weird.

We skipped to my speech, and that is where the fun began.

Folks, the sound of my voice came as a shock.

Oh sure, nobody likes to hear themselves talk, but this was something else altogether.

My voice sounded like a cross between Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes (from the movie Gone With the Wind, if you’re not familiar with these names).  It was higher pitched and syrupy.  My words flowed in the gentle southern drawl that melts like butter.

The kids and I spent a few minutes laughing hysterically.  I actually had to pause the tape.  When I started it again, I sat, mesmerized, by…well…me!  Although I remember giving that speech, it just didn’t seem like me.

The speech seemed to go on forever.  Bet you’re not surprised about that.  Go ahead and laugh.  I know you want to.

Some things never change.

I watched the rest of the graduation.  It didn’t take long because there were only 18 of us. Eleven of my classmates went to school together from first through twelfth grade.  Small schools=small classes.  It’s hard to believe that graduation was the last night we were all together.

We were a close bunch that laughed together and fought together.  We cried together when one of our own shot herself (we like to believe it was an accident) when we were in the eighth grade.  She lived across the street from the school, and we heard the gunshot.  It was a sad memory that was recalled when, during the graduation ceremony, we paid tribute to her.  We were blessed to have her parents attend that night.  Seeing their faces as they accepted a plaque from us really touched my heart today.  I still visit her grave when I’m in town.
As the tape ended, I felt a sense of melancholy.  I wasn’t ready for the reminiscing to end just quite yet.

I began to thumb  through the yearbook from my senior year.  I recalled the heartbreak and joy that were a part of that year.

It was the year I grew in confidence.  I played an active role in many clubs…editor of the yearbook, president of the Pep Club, and Vice President of the Beta Club.  I saw the picture of the girls basketball team.  I was a member of the team benchwarmer.

The Senior Who’s Who was fun…I got Most Studious (no surprise) and Most School Spirit.   I was pleasantly surprised to see myself holding the first place trophy I won during the State Typing Division 2 Tournament.  I won it typing on a dinosaur…an old manual typewriter!  My right arm was strong with the hours I spent throwing that carriage return.

My trip down Memory Lane was wonderful…especially since nobody in my class arranged a 20-year reunion.  It gave me time to reflect on my classmates and the affect they had on my life.  I fought with some, “liked” others (wink), and confided in a few.

These were long-ago memories brought out from the closet of my mind.  It was a welcome respite from my day of work.

AuburnChick is Officially a College Graduate

Today was Graduation Day!!! Even though I finished the end of February, the commencement ceremony wasn’t until today.

As any girl would do, I had to prepare. The biggest question? How was I going to wear my hair?

I have thick, naturally curly hair. Wearing hats is very difficult cause I have such big hair. So, I decided to get my hair straightened. Not permanently but with a hot iron at the hairdresser.

Here’s the before picture…

I had my hair fixed yesterday (Friday) after work. Here’s the after picture.

And here’s what I looked today like with the cap and gown…

I have to stay true to my promise to my family not to put my face on the internet…hence the shots from behind. Sorry…it’s actually my best side, so think of it as me doing you a huge favor. 😀

I’m sure that many of you have already graduated from college…probably a few years ago. For me, this was the conclusion of a long-aspired dream. After attending college for two years immediately after high school and then putting it on hold to have my children, I desperately wanted to finish what I had started. Plus, I want to teach middle school, and you can’t do that without a degree.

I had always told my kids that I wanted to go back and finish. That’s just what I did. Many of you read of my adventures…at least during the last term since I only started blogging in November.

I wasn’t sure I was going to do the Commencement Walk. There was a possibility that Soccer Chick would have a soccer tournament. I went ahead and ordered the cap and gown…taking the advice of one of the female attorneys at the law firm where I work. She insisted that it would provide closure to this long process.

She was right.

We got up bright and early this morning, heading out around 7:15.  Along the way, I periodically checked my hair in the mirror.  A wee bit vain.  I’m allowed.  Today was my day, after all.

Once there, I got my family pointed in the direction they were to go, I nervously made my way to where the other students were gathered. I did not know a soul. Because I attended online classes, I had never met any of my classmates. We were a conglomeration of IRL attendees (in real life) and virtual students. We were lined up several times according to the whim of our fearless leaders. Actually, that’s probably not fair. I think it took a bit of time for everyone to get on the same page. Once we were lined up correctly, we waited…and waited…and waited.

I became buddies with the next person in line…a lovely lady who, like me, had returned to college when her children were teenagers. We had much in common. We were both nervous wrecks and emotional.

Finally it was time to enter the auditorium, walking in, of course, to Pomp and Circumstance. I felt tears in my eyes. To see all of those people there supporting their loved ones and cheering when we came in. Wow. I saw my advisor who smiled and gave me a wave and an encouraging word.

I was fortunate to have the best seat in the house…front row.

I was able to observe the Color Guard’s ceremony of presenting the flags. That was so amazing and a reminder of all of those serving so that I can have the freedom to pursue my education and eventually teach in this wonderful country. The members’ precision and dedication to their task touched my heart.

After the guest speaker, we were officially “cleared” for graduation. Changing my tassel from the right to the left side — while a simple act — was very special to me. A single tear rolled down my eye, prompting a “Don’t start that” from my new friend. She was on the verge of losing it. The gal on the right cried almost the entire time. She was a real sweetie

It soon became time for us to walk across the stage. This is where I wanted to upchuck. Redneck girls in pumps are not accustomed to walking across stage with several hundred people watching. I prayed the entire time that I wouldn’t trip.

“Don’t trip, Nathalie, don’t trip.”

Little did I know that Soccer Chick was praying the same thing. In her words to her father, “Mama would do something like that.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence, dear.

I got through it and actually smiled. I have video that proves it. Wow! I actually looked normal!

After sitting down, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was finished.

After the undergraduates were presented, it was time for the graduate students to get hooded. Have you ever seen this done? I had not. How totally cool! The look of pride on their faces…wow! I have almost decided that I want one of those. 12 more classes and I, too, could be hooded. We’ll see if graduate school is in my future…maybe in a couple of years. I simply love the pursuit of knowledge…too bad you have to write long papers on the process!

A quick plug…I attended classes at Troy University. I had compared programs and fees very carefully. My experience with the college was 100% wonderful! My adviser was a dream to work with, and the professors were diligent in their jobs. The University is determined that everyone have the opportunity to be educated — hence they are very popular with the military. Many of my classmates were stationed overseas. It was a neat opportunity to get their perspective during my political science and history classes.

With the ceremony under my belt, it was time to have more fun. Knowing that I was only a couple of miles away from a nice yarn store, I headed out to the car, springing my plans on my family. Boy were they mad! Their idea of fun is not petting yarn.

Too bad for you. Today was MY day, and I was selfish. While I shopped, the kids and Mr. AuburnChick waited in the car, air conditioning keeping them comfortable.

Here’s where I shopped…

And here are photos of the inside…just in case you don’t believe me…

What an array of yarn! There was lots of Lamb’s Pride, Noro, Tilli Tomas, Tofutsies (a very good selection), and even Malabrigo. It was so hard to decide what to get.

Here’s what I bought…

The last photo is Tilli Tomas…100% silk with glass beads spun in. It was ridiculously expensive. I’ve had my eye on it for a couple of weeks and decided to splurge. I don’t know what I’ll make with it, but I’m sure Ravelry will provide some ideas.

So, although my family didn’t exactly make this day the special day I hoped for, I made my own special memories.

If you have ever considered going back to school or doing something that seems, at first, overwhelming and unattainable, GO FOR IT. The 23 classes in 21 months with a 3.8 cumulative GPA was worth every bit of effort. I reached my goal. I got good yarn afterwards.

What more could a person ask for?

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