Getting ready to watch my fifth-grader at his promotion ceremony, I may have rolled my eyes just a bit at the big to-do for these barely-tweens marking the end of their elementary school years.

Maybe rolled, until I had to grab a tissue, seeing my friend dabbing at her eyes. My friend who has known my child since he was just over a year old, and whose own daughter is now almost as tall as she is. Our children met before they were in school, when they could barely talk.

I looked around the gym, Class of 2018 banner raised high above our little 10- and 11-year-olds, and I realized what we’ve built here. So many of these people have become friends, my “I have your back” people. We look at one another in this gym and shrug, holding our tissues.

I can’t help but think: It was yesterday — yesterday — that this child of mine was running around in a diaper, playing alongside their toddlers in muddy back yards as we moms grasped for any sort of conversation we could get between their baby needs.

These were the women who noticed his second birthday party was overwhelming for him, and helped shepherd things along until he was comfortable. Who saw us rushing in the morning and gave him a ride to school. Who helped us through a tough transition in preschool. Yes, their children had issues, too, and they didn’t hesitate to tell me what they were, and we’d commiserate.

On the dark drive home from work, rushing to start dinner, I breathed a little easier when I saw a friend also pulling into her parking spot, wearing her workday suit, surely counting the minutes of that commute until she could walk through the door and start the second shift at home. I didn’t feel so alone then. At some point when we actually could sit down together, we’d talk about our work, our dreams and goals (even just that they still exist), about that commute home every day.

Forgotten homework? Moms and dads sent a text with a photo of their child’s blank sheet. Or opened the door so my child could build up the courage to come over and ask for a copy. These simple actions meant he could go into school the next day feeling more confident, relaxed, knowing he understood it, wouldn’t get in trouble. And I could breathe, too.

I looked around that gym and thought about that phrase that any parent is as happy as her least happy child. These parents kept my happiness quotient up a bit by being yet another support for my boy. They knew when he was suffering, when he needed a friend. When I needed a friend. They celebrated with him, called when they knew it was a bad day. They applauded his singing, his baseball playing. They laughed at his jokes and antics.

They loved my child, too. Just as I love theirs. And knowing that buoyed me so many days as he grew, learned, blossomed, failed, tried again.

We spend our kids’ elementary school years focused on so many things. Scissor skills. Moving from addition to fractions, sentences to paragraphs. Reading aloud. Dealing with teasing. Helping them write an apology note when things go wrong, a thank-you note at the end of the year. We help them learn social skills and build friendships, treat people the right way, be kind. We hope that sinks in as the little people they were grow into the bigger people they’ve become. I realized we were teaching by doing. Our friendships and outward support showed them how to be supportive friends, too.

We joke that as mothers, we’re never alone. A minute with the bathroom door locked can be a respite. And yet, the job of parenting can be a very lonely act. But I realized as my guy walked to receive his certificate: These people, friends, made it less lonely. These parents were there guiding their own children while helping me guide mine, even if we didn’t recognize it then. And our own friendships were growing as we were trying to teach our kids to grow theirs.

So that eye-rolling I expected? There are much bigger issues in the world right now that deserve real tears, so yes, I started out a bit cynical about this seemingly little ceremony. But then a few of those tears fell while our kids earned a moment.

It wasn’t so hard feel sentimental when I looked around at the little world we had created together. All of us.

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