I remember standing on the grassy football field the night of my graduation. Cords and medals hung around my neck; a cap that belonged to another student before the celebratory toss now rested atop my head, extra fluffy thanks to the humidity. My boyfriend found me on the field and put his arms around me saying how proud he was of me. And I clearly remember thinking, “Why?”
Of course I said, “Thank you,” or gave a grateful smile as I had to my parents when they expressed similar sentiments all during the time surrounding my high school graduation, but I didn’t get it. What was the big deal? I graduated high school. I did what I was supposed to do. Didn’t almost everyone?
It wasn’t like the time I qualified for Nationals. Only a small percentage of people can call themselves gymnasts, and an even smaller percentage get to stand on the podium as one of the top seven girls who qualified to represent her region. I remember the feeling; my cheeks were stretched tight into a smile that I couldn’t stop had I wanted to.
But I didn’t want to stop. I savored every minute of that night. I laughed with my teammates, giddy over what some of us achieved. We posed for pictures, and when my parents said they were proud of me, I understood. I was proud of me, too.
I had worked hard for that moment, years of training in the gym and years of coming oh-so-close, missing the cut-off by a tenth of a point. Going to Nationals wasn’t a guarantee for anyone, but I was getting my chance.
Standing on that football field didn’t feel the same.
Of course, I wasn’t looking through the eyes of a parent.
I didn’t understand that what came naturally for me wasn’t necessarily easy for everyone else.
I didn’t understand that it wasn’t necessarily the outcome that made my parents proud but the hard work, determination, and focus along the way.
And I didn’t understand that they weren’t proud because of what I could do but proud because of who I had become.
I didn’t understand then, but now I’ve sat in the bleachers of a T-ball game between five and six years olds. I’ve tensed every muscle as I nervously looked at the action on the field. I’ve cheered my heart out and had pride fill my chest. I’ve felt my cheeks stretch tight as a smile took over my face. And I recalled the giddiness of that teenage girl who just qualified for Nationals.
No, I didn’t understand what the big deal was when I stood on the football field, but when I watched my son take his own position on the field, it all became clear. And at once I understood.
When was a moment when you felt most proud?