The Graduation Photo Collages I'll Never Have
When you move enough times throughout childhood, there is no scrapbook of consistent friendships
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
By many metrics, I grew up in a nomadic household.
From the time I was born until the time I graduated from high school, I lived in four different states, we moved five times, and I attended six different schools. I didn’t attend the same high school as my childhood friends. I didn’t attend the same high school for all four years. I couldn’t even apply for NHS until I was a senior because of a move across the country the summer before my junior year.
I know people who lived far more nomadic lifestyles, but it certainly wasn’t a childhood or adolescence marked by the stability of consistent friendships that spanned my entire academic career.
I wanted it to be different for my own kids. I had dreams for them. I had plans for 18 years of attending the same schools with the same friends from the time they started until the time that they graduated from high school.
When I was a yearbook adviser, I was in charge of collecting senior messages with collages of my very grown-up students during every stage of their lives. As I looked through ads and messages and carefully placed them in spreads, I considered all of the photos from the years that I would want to include in my own message to my graduating children.
Now my husband and I are finally at that age where we are seeing friend after friend posting pictures of their not-so-little ones graduating from high school. While our late venture into parenthood means that we have a few more years to go before we start emptying the nest, we are getting a taste of what it means to prepare for that transition, and again, I’m looking at photo collages of our friends’ children from every stage of their lives. Some of the most adorable collages are the ones that show them with the same friends over the years, through preschool baby cheeks, elementary growth, middle school awkwardness, and finally high school maturity.
After an adolescence and young adulthood of mourning the absence of my own pictures with the same childhood friends through the years, I desperately wanted that for my own children.
That was my dream when we brought our little girl home to the south side of Indianapolis. Then a year later we moved to Fort Wayne. Five years later we moved to Houston and at the young ages of four and six, it appeared that I could somehow keep the dream alive. But six years later we moved back to Indianapolis and the dream that I had for both of my children from the time they were born lay shattered at my feet. I would never be able to create cradle-to-graduation-cap collages. I would never know what it was like to watch the same group of children grow alongside my children into young adulthood and see their friendships through all of the changes and challenges of growing up. And they would never know the gift of having friends alongside them who had known them through every stage of childhood.
I don't fault my friends for sharing adorable photos of their now graduated seniors when they were friends back in kindergarten. Truth be told, if it were me I would be that annoying mom putting my kids and their best friends through the torture of replicating poses through the years.
It’s just the difficult reality for those of us who have exchanged consistent stability in a single geographic location for new and exciting challenges and adventures. One is not better than the other, each decision bringing with it advantages and disadvantages. For me, the biggest challenge has been the loss of personal connection and history. I wish I could have spared my own children the same experiences, but life happens and we learn how to adjust our expectations to match the lives that we are given.
I’m happy for the friends who have those progressive photographs. I’m glad that their children faced a different set of challenges from knowing and being with the same people for their entire childhoods. But for those of us who will never have those photos, who feel a sharp pang every single time we see our friends post those cradle-to-graduation cap photographs, it can be a little bit too much a reminder of the things that we lost in exchange for the gain of experience.
So don’t stop sharing, don’t stop posting, and please do not feel like there is any shame in celebrating the stability that you have been able to give your children from the time you brought them home. Just know that some of us are living vicariously through your photographs, and hoping that our own children will someday forgive us for taking away their own chance to graduate with their preschool classmates.
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