Tassels, Bars, and Buttons

Abbie and her four princes.

Earlier this month our entire gang traveled to California  for one of the highlights of our family’s life thus far:  Chase’s graduation from college and commissioning as an Army officer.  That Saturday was full of sunshine, flowers, memories, hopes, and the surreal recognition that my son is now truly a man — a man whose adventures are going to take him far from us in the years to come.

When pride, joy, and foreboding meld, the provenance of tears becomes unclear…were my eyes welling with pride at the gold cords around his neck, or were memories of my little boy sliding down my cheeks, wetting them as those precious images fell away as quickly as the years had?

My family, including my parents, surrounding our new graduate. Abbie was relaxing on the grass nearby.


A new SCU grad, and the future SCU grad he loves. I know Santa Clara gave Chase a great education, but I suspect the coming years may show that Melissa is the best thing it gave him.

Seeing Chase, degree in hand, was just the prelude, however.  The full symphony of emotions would come  that afternoon, as he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army.

We were fortunate that the weather was perfect, so we could hang out on campus in the Mission Gardens between the two events.

Abbie relaxing in the Mission Gardens. I spent many a sunny afternoon here as a student, so I treasured the view of my princess among the flowers.

After a quick change, we were ready to go the the commissioning. I love seeing my boys in jackets…not too many occasions for that in Hawaii.


We arrived at the ceremony and were told that special seats were reserved for us, to accomodate Abbie. This kindness is generally a two-edged sword.  It meant we could all sit together, but it also meant we would be in the last row, farthest away from the stage. I didn’t really get to see any of graduation because of where the handicapped section had been located, and didn’t want to feel so separated from the action again.  But, I also didn’t want to leave Abbie.

Genevieve quickly  solved my dilemma.  Her firm command, “Go, go…we’ll be fine up here,” allowed the rest of us to descend the steeply-graded theater to find seats close to the stage.  She didn’t know at the time that her distance from the stage was not going to preclude her involvement in the day.

Red roses have a long history as part of Army ceremonies. I never expected to receive one this day. A precious gift of love and recognition.

Shortly after the commissionees arrived on stage, their commander told them to take the red roses beneath their seats and give them to the women in the audience who had helped each of them make it to this day.  Chase started with three important ladies seated together:  Grandma, Melissa’s mom Ruth, and Melissa.  He then crossed the aisle to give me a rose and big hug.  There was one more rose left.

Chase loped up the stairs, heading towards the handicapped section.  When he arrived, the rose did not go to Abbie, as Genevieve expected.  I heard Genevieve gasp as Chase leaned down, gave her a hug and handed her the last rose.  By the time I caught her eye we were both crying. I will never forget the image of Genevieve waving the rose overhead…such joy at being recognized and included.

Then, it was time…

Whispering one last special prayer, I put the hard-earned gold bars on Chase's uniform.

Whispering one last special prayer, I put the hard-earned gold bars on Chase’s uniform.

Chase received his first salute from an NCO he greatly admires, SFC Timothy.

It just doesn’t get much better than this. So grateful.

This wasn’t Chase’s first Santa Clara graduation, however.  He was five months old when I wore the cap and gown in Mission Gardens:

Santa Clara, class of 1991

Chase was with me from the beginning  of my own Army adventure:

Just before I kissed him goodbye for the last time before deploying to Somalia.

So, there was one photograph I was insistent on capturing:

A circle fuller, sweeter, and more complete than I could have imagined. We did it, Chase…together and individually. My heart overflows.

I awoke Sunday morning thinking, “Phew…now my heart can come down off the mountaintop and rest for a while.”

Abbie had other plans.

In the afternoon Chase, Abbie and I were hanging out in the hotel room, so I thought I would show Chase how Abbie’s PODD book works.  She and I started to talk, while Chase watched.

“Wow, you can tell pretty easily which button she wants,” he said.

Upon hearing that, Abbie vocalized and lifted her hand.

“Oh, Abbie – do you have something to say to Chase?”

She sure did.  I was happy she wanted to talk to her brother.  I was in no way prepared for what she was about to say.  (I’m including all the buttons she had to choose, so you can see how she built her sentence.)



So far, “I, different”…but I didn’t know what else she wanted to say yet. She had to lead me there through additional choices.

(More to say) — a button that navigates to a different part of the book

(Like words) – a button that navigates to a few pages of positive words.

I could barely speak the word “smart” as I realized what she was saying.

“I”, “different”, “smart.”

“Oh sweet Abbie…are you telling Chase that even though you are different you are smart?”

A resounding yes with every exclamatory movement her body could produce.

Weeping all around.

The first thing she had wanted to tell her brother is that she, too, is smart.  We have always known that, even when that faith elicited looks of confusion or pity from others. This wasn’t a revelation of something we didn’t know, nor even an affirmation of something we did.  It was more than that.

It was Abbie telling us that SHE knows she is smart.  She hasn’t lost faith in herself, and has resisted the judgment of so many through these years.  I am still absorbing this one sentence.

So, those are the high (high, high) lights of graduation weekend.  Along with this:

Dinner the night before graduation at Dio Deka in Los Gatos. An absolutely amazing meal with the best company I could ever ask for: my husband, all four sons, Abbie, Genevieve, my mom and dad, Melissa and her parents Vito and Ruth.  We think the world of Melissa, so we knew she had wonderful parents.  We were right!  Getting to meet them was the cherry on top of this weekend.

I cannot number the blessings nor measure the grace that fills our lives.  If I say “Thank you” with every exhale, I don’t think it will ever be enough.

















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