Dear Jake— You will graduate this weekend from Drury University with two degrees, one is in business and finance and the other is in history. I am a big picture girl.
You are a man who gets lost in the details. You focus on perfection and achievement. I focus on thinking about how something feels. Because of my 20-year work history with Drury University, I will get to present you your diploma on Saturday afternoon.
Ironically, I was able to present you your diploma at Aurora High School only four years ago. It was supposed to be a surprise. But, I know how you are when it comes to surprises. You like things all neatly placed before you…matching…organized…complete and no questions remaining.
So, I’m telling you now--it will be me you meet face to face on center stage. A million things will go through my mind. I will fight the urge to jump up and down, yell out some hillbilly celebratory woots and swing you in a circle in front of the crowd.
I know you will frown at that thought—and furrow your little brow. So I will leave my lacey socks at home and I will try hard to act dignified and graceful in honor of this solemn occasion. A simple wink from me will let you know what I am really thinking and what I truly am fighting the urge to do. Ultimately, I will control myself for you, I promise.
Maybe you could teach me the crazy Indian dance I’ve heard about through the years. I think it was your good luck charm at basketball games in high school. Whatever the case, I am dying to do it—when you have a spare moment to demonstrate it for me.
God must have laughed himself silly when he gave you to me as my son. We are alike in some ways and opposite in others. I can still remember your cries when I would change the furniture around and toss everything into one big pile in the floor for one of my famous projects. Being a part of your graduation benchmarks mean the world to me.
I come from a long line of folks who fought to go to school, stood up for what was right, tried hard to improve their life courses and always worked hard to help their families do the same.
I have always been one of those parents…You know, the ones people whisper about behind our backs. I hovered a little too close when you were young. In fact, Lowell Principal Jim Jones threatened to call the cops on me during your first day of kindergarten—when I refused to quit circling the block.
Your late arrival at birth might have taught me patience, but I also learned that day that things can go wrong in a heartbeat and how every second truly counts. I have always hoped that by keeping you near me, I could protect you. I know now that is not true. The highs and lows come to all of us.
The trick is to make sure you keep climbing and facing things head-on. Slowly, all right, maybe just last week, I began to let go as you learned to ride your bike, jump off the high dive, drive a car and dance in the rain with other people besides me.
My mother told me once that being a mom would be the most important role I ever played. I took her words to heart as I mothered you to the best of my abilities, mourned the loss of your twin through the years and celebrated the milestones of learning to read, telling time, tying your shoes, accepting Jesus as your Savior and riding your bicycle around the block.
Wow! That all seems like yesterday.
Drury has served you well. You played baseball for two years and you have been active in Students in Free Enterprise. You have been with old Aurora pals, Garrett Hillman and Samantha Gripka, and you have made new friends, too: Jason, Jeff, Bill and Wes, to name a few.
You have been disappointed in a few professors and you have made others your friends. I have two degrees from Drury and so does your stepdad, Al. It is a small, private school with a strong sense of community, family and student-driven learning models.
At times, it has been too liberal for your tastes, but you have learned to play the game, stand your ground and get outside your comfort zone on a regular basis. I am proud of the journey we’ve both made together, through some hills and valleys, disappointments and pain and pinnacles of victory and success.
I’m proud of your academic accomplishments, your spirit for athletics and competition and the honors you will take with you to hang on your wall. But, most of all, I’m proud of your heart. You have a passion for long shots, underdogs, adventure and traditions rooted in faith, family and friendship.
You always try to leave things better than when you found them. You are always looking for opportunities and adventure. These past 22 years have found me teaching you the importance of hard work, enthusiasm and honesty.
I’ve tried to teach you a little bit about hanging on to your dreams and the significance of determination. It was only recently, when I opened up an early Mother’s Day card from you and your girlfriend, Cara, I truly realized the things you have been teaching me.
Taking vacations with you was an experience, you loved to climb things and you loved to run. Once, while visiting the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, you bolted from my grasp as I was grabbing for my camera bag at Kissing Rock.
As I began to frantically search for you, I heard you yell, “Hey, Mama, look at me…I’m up here!” My heart stopped as I realized “up here” meant about 10-15 feet off the ground. For me and my fear of heights, it might as well have been 150 feet in the air.
Shaking just a little, I climbed steadily to you, after I handed off my stuff to Grandma Faye on the ground. I kept my eyes on you as I reached for you and slowly lowered you to the ground to her. You taught me to face my fears that day.
You also taught me that love and faith will overcome any fear. (I also taught you not to run from your mother, but that’s another column.) Later, you would come down with a bad case of shingles in the midst of Little League season.
While the heat made the blistery pockets almost unbearable, you allowed us to wrap you in plastic wrap so that the shingles would not mess up your uniform while you played ball. We would cut the wrapping with scissors at night and peel it away from your skin.
You didn’t cry once. You knew if I saw you shed one tear, I wouldn’t want you playing on that ball field. That same type of fierce determination and tenacity of spirit would show up again your senior year in high school, when a football injury sidelined you for a while.
You fought like crazy to get back on the basketball court halfway through your senior season. At Christmas time that same year, you lost your number one fan and my mother—Grandma Faye Estes—the keeper of the sweet tea and all of our secrets.
When that call came, you were in the middle of my dual credit final. We made eye contact and got up to leave the room together. You held out your hand for my car keys to drive me to the nursing home. Somehow, we switched roles that day.
This year found you losing your Grandpa Frank McCully in March. That’s one more empty seat at graduation. I know the thought will cross your mind as the rest of us are hooting and hollering on the sidelines. But life is all about change and making the most of any given moment. Jake, you have taught me that.
You taught me that a little hot chocolate and vandalism wasn’t that painful. (You toilet papered your own house when you were about 10.) You taught me to shoot fireworks without hurting myself on the Fourth of July.
Your playful spirit has always kept me young. Our imaginations about ghosts, Civil War camps, soldiers and Indians on the Trail of Tears kept us awake talking through the night when you were little. We still love those stories today.
You have tried to teach me me the art of forgiveness. I’m not very good at it yet. I seem to hang on to stuff a long time, especially when someone has wronged anyone I respect or love. You told me a long time ago how important it is to move on…and how being unforgiving only hurts me. I always nod my head in agreement.
You are such a kinder, gentler version of me and your father. Again, you are living proof that God is still in the miracle business. In turn, through your high school and college friends, you have given me lots of kids to mother and love.
In becoming Mama Mobley, I have loved them all and prayed for their safety every night. You tell me it doesn’t cost anything to take the high road. I smile and tell you the “low road is so much fun!” You shake your head and give me the thumbs up sign.
You also taught me these old bones don’t bounce like they used to when I could easily wrestle you to the ground. Now, I take a running leap at you and nothing happens. You fleck at me like you are waving at a fly and never break your stride. I hate that. You have a lot of opportunities on your plate right now.
I’m not certain—yet—as to what you will choose and where you will land. I catch myself biting my tongue because I know now if you want my advice—you will ask. When you ask for it, you always listen. But God, time, grandparents, Miss Connie, Miss Cathy, Miss Kay, Georgia Lee, Doc Campbell, Na-Na, Brother Lee, Uncle Roy, Darin Meinders and a few others have served you well.
You make good decisions. You always land on your feet. You always give everything your best shot. It hasn’t been easy being my son. I am nothing like most mothers.
Don’t think that I don’t know that fact. I’ve had jobs in a small town where your every move has been in the public eye. We have no secrets. I can be loud and bossy and funny and mean. My smalltown roots are always on my sleeve and I take no prisoners when somebody backs me against the wall.
You have handled it well. You love me for who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m going. My friend, Tessa, says we have our children for the world. It seems fitting this benchmark event will occur on Mother’s Day Weekend. My Mother’s Day card from you says you hope this Mother’s Day is as happy for me as that very first one.
I laughed. I remember that first one well. We had friends over for an afternoon barbecue and the guys all trailed off to Honey Creek to play golf. Ironically, we’ll be hosting another picnic celebration—in honor of Mother’s Day and your graduation. Some of the faces have changed through the years. Some will be missing from the lineup. There are also new ones in our midst these days.
Yes, Jake, this one will be as good as that very first one, because your big blue eyes, your ornery smile and your charming personality will still be a part of it. Being your mother changed my life.
In some ways, it actually saved it. Your card indicated we had been together 22 years and counting. Here’s hoping for at least 44 more!
The journey continues.
The lessons abound.
Learning is truly a lifelong experience.
(Kim McCully-Mobley is a local writer, educator, gypsy/rebel/cowgirl with a passion for learning, dancing in the rain and embarrassing family members and friends in public. She is the owner of The Ozarkian Spirit, a small company devoted to promoting and preserving life in the Ozarks. For additional information, please email her at email@example.com)