This weekend was the Lakeview prom.
Gabriella spent eighteen happy years as a student at Lakeview School. Every morning, she boarded the small yellow bus in the cul-de-sac in front of our house and headed off with whoops of joy. She had amazing teachers and therapists at the school, and so many friends. Everyone knew her, from the principal and administrators to the nurses and aides, even those in classrooms she had never attended. They called her Gabby, and they clearly loved her.
Last year, at twenty-one, she graduated from Lakeview. This separation was as daunting for her mother and me as it was for her, and while she has moved on to a new daytime program, there will always be a special place in our hearts for her school. Lisa remains active in the parents association, and the three of us have returned several times this past year, for a variety of reasons.
And yet I was especially looking forward to the prom.
Unlike at most schools, the Lakeview prom is not limited to seniors and juniors, but is open to all of the older students. But best of all, they welcome back alumni. They hold it on a Saturday afternoon at a welcoming venue called The Pines Manor where our kids and their families enjoy respect and kindness.
So this past Saturday, Lisa and I, both of Gabriella’s grandmothers, and her brother Alexander accompanied her to her first prom since her graduation.
As in prior years, she flinched and her upper lip trembled at the loud music when we arrived, and then she settled in and became accustomed to the volume. As in prior years, she and Lisa paraded about as celebrities known to many. As in prior years, she and I danced and she had a wonderful time.
And as in prior years, they had a special ceremony in the latter part of the afternoon. All the kids who will graduate in the next few weeks come to the center of the room, most in their wheelchairs and each in the basking love of their families who form a circle around them. Everyone else gathers round and sings along as the DJ played That’s What Friends Are For.
The first time we went, when Gabriella was sixteen, I found a wistfulness in the song and I admired the camaraderie of the loved ones ringing their children. With each ensuing prom, I noticed that many of those parents were crying. By 2015, with Gabriella’s graduation one prom away, I felt tears in my own eyes. Last year was different: where I had expected to cry I felt only shock that she would be leaving behind such a magical part of her life.
This weekend I knew better. I saw the expressions on those kids and their parents from a different vantage point, with the sad wisdom of those who have seen the daily joys of Lakeview School recede on the horizon. But I also saw the faces of the families of the Lakeview alumni, always welcome to come back and share this special spring day and a taste of the cherished past.
And so my tears this year were for our belonging.