Emerald LaFortune graduates this Saturday. Greg and I will empty the truck, pick up my mom, and head East to get to Missoula in time for her final research presentation. We’ll take her out to dinner at the one restaurant that she could never afford as a college student. She and her roommate Cosette, will be hosting a brunch on Friday prior to the Honor’s College ceremony. Jasper flies in that evening, and on Saturday, she will receive her B.A. in Environmental Studies and Professional Certificate in Non-Profit Administration. She will stay in Missoula through her golden birthday on the 22nd, and then heads to Moscow for a night or two. Training for her summer job as a raft guide with OARS begins on the 25th. A season of rafting will likely be followed by a season of skiing. I’ll be giving her cold hard cash towards a cargo carrier for her car (assurance that she is indeed NOT moving back in with me), which she will then turn around and pay back to me as her contribution towards family car and health insurance. Raft guide and ski bum jobs don’t generally come with benefits, and the groceries are left-over from trips. I’ll make sure she remains insured and doesn’t starve, the rest is up to her.
Emerald started school one week before Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer. Upon hearing the news, she wanted to move back to Moscow. To be with her dad, and be a support for me. We told her no. What I desperately needed at that time was for my kids to stay the course that had been set out for them. I knew that life was about to get really crazy, and the best thing they could do for me was to be teenage kids. Emerald went back to school with conditions. She had to lighten her load by dropping any class where the prof seemed less than sympathetic. She had to get a local counselor so there was someone she could trust to talk to. I promised to work out transportation for her so that she could get home to be with her dad whenever she wanted or needed to. I also promised her that she would never find out things about Jim by reading it in his Caring Bridge blog. I would never sugar coat things, and I would always call her first. So Emerald switched her major from Spanish to Environmental Studies. She got a counselor and a car. I’m sure there were times that she saw my name come up on her screen, and dreaded answering the phone. She went back to school, and she finished her undergraduate degree in 4 years.
Emerald has always been a bit, shall we say, precocious. She was potty trained well before 3, and wanted books read to her there. Instead of a resounding “no”, I got “Well, I don’t think so.” and “Actually, …” She informed me at age 6 that she liked being a girl because she could hang upside down on the monkey bars in her jeans at school, and then come home and dress to the nines. Shoes were a fascination, and “make the outfit.” By age 12, she was informing me that she was a grown woman, so I turned over her money management. She quickly learned that shopping in thrift stores meant there was money left over for toys and treats. By the time Emerald was a teenager, she was working multiple jobs, and as a senior took most of her classes at the University. From complaining about the LaFortune “forced marches”, blossomed a kid that was skiing the steep and deep with a grin, riding single track on a dual suspension mountain bike, and making her first attempts at rowing Lochsa Falls. Her dad was her most reliable outdoor adventure buddy. She was pretty sure that he walked on water, and he adored her as only a daddy can. I was there to talk to when she realized that he was human, and we dealt with some of her teenage angst by taking yoga classes together and putting each other at the end of a climbing rope. I would take her to dinner, or she would treat me to coffee, and it was a gift.
Even as a kid, I think Emerald realized that though I would always be there for her, I was not her best friend, I was her mom. I sometimes made decisions she did not agree with, and even though there was debate, I still got the final say. As she grew up, I learned to listen more to her side of the debate. I can honestly say I have learned more from her than I have ever given her. The best thing about being a mother is the things that your kids teach you, and that goes well beyond simple things like how good a beer in the shower is after a hard bike ride. Now that she truly is a grown woman, I am still her mom. I am still here for her. But sometimes, after a day on the river, or following her up sweet single track on skis or a bike, or across the table at a good meal, I forget and the line blurs between friend and child. I am in love with my little girl, and in awe of the woman she has become. I feel like the luckiest person in the universe that my life includes this individual at this time and for my foreseeable future.
Congratulations, Emerald LaFortune. You did it!