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Bringing Up Mommy: Joys of graduation scrapbooks

I can do a graduation party for 100 people, no sweat.

I can choose between Mylar and Hi-Float latex balloons without looking, determine how many chicken trays to order for the mass of Facebook-invited kids who might or might not eat (or show up) and know what to do if it rains (freeze the chicken and remind myself that May showers bring June kale in my vegetable garden).

I can field questions about my child’s future plans while replenishing the pasta salad, while reminding the graduate he can’t hide by the cornhole game for the whole party but has to make small talk with the adults, too.

As a seasoned graduation planner with two high school and two college graduations behind me, I have learned to navigate the details of the graduation season with ease, efficiency and experience, from planning and hosting the party, to fluffing pillows for out-of-town guests, to making it through “Pomp and Circumstance” without sobbing loud enough for the principal to hear.

Except for one thing – the “This Is Your Life” graduation scrapbook.

Not all graduating seniors can expect such a book. An informal poll of widely scattered friends reveals that this is not a nationwide norm. Meanwhile, among our local high school cohort, the scrapbook is a social more, typically played out by the mother and representing varying degrees of commitment, devotion and obsession.

The least among us will do a nice greeting card instead, while at the other extreme is the perfectionist-leaning mom who will painstakingly pilfer every baby memory book, photo album and box in the basement marked “school papers.” She will spend hours, days and weeks collecting footprints from birth; tickets from Disney World and a White House tour 15 years ago; as well as report cards, art papers, awards, certificates and photos from each grade.

I promised I was going to be neither mom. I couldn’t not do something. As for the other extreme, I had neither the scrapbooking skills, nor the attention span, to produce such an enduring symbol of identity and story, each scrapbook page the consummate representation of my child’s birth and college choice and everything in between.

For the first two of my three high school graduates, indeed, I hit it down the middle, creating a book for each child that included photos; a few memos from a scattering of school years; and copies of the inspirational quotes and articles that I had been collecting since my water broke in 1988.

I assumed that I would do the same for my youngest. But then as my last child’s high school graduation loomed recently, I found myself lying awake at night, imagining the boxes of school papers decomposing in the storage shed. If not now, when could I justify saving them all these years?

In the end, I put in the time. On the Sunday before graduation 2015, I climbed inside the storage bins of our lives, sifting through three sets of children’s papers from preschool, elementary, middle and high school, making dozens of decisions about what best represents the 6,600 days of my youngest child’s life. I took over the kitchen with purposefully arranged stacks and piles, baskets of special tapes and scissors, and packet upon packet of cute little decorative thingies from the craft store. I spent the whole of three days and parts of two more during graduation week, making not one, but two books for my son. The second book was so thick, I had to go to a hardware store to find 2-inch screws and bolts to hold it together.

Along the way, something unexpected happened: I not only crafted a beautifully illustrated story of my last child’s life to present to him, but by spending all those hours surrounded by the details of my children’s lives, I crafted the story of mine, too.

The scrapbook embodies my son’s story. But it is a story that is intimately connected with my own. And the connection doesn’t stop. It didn’t stop when one child quit writing “I love you, Mommy” papers and another went off to middle school. And it won’t stop now. Even after this youngest child leaves home, the story will continue, the same, but different, one shared memento, one shared moment, one shared page after the other.

For now, sing alleluia, all three children have their scrapbooks, the last of which I presented to my last son the night before he walked through his high school one last time as a student.

It’s time for a party now – a big one, come rain or shine – and a brand-new pack of pages.