Wednesday, June 21, 2023

You're My Lobster

As you may know, Margaret graduated from college last month. 

We are incredibly proud of her! She persevered despite the pandemic and other challenges, and we are excited for whatever her next chapter holds for her.

A few years ago, she mentioned that her school has a tradition of the graduates carrying mylar balloons during the procession, and that she'd like me to get her a lobster balloon. I haven't been a fan of balloons since learning the harm they do to the environment, but when she told me the balloons are collected and given to kids in the hospital, I felt better about it.

So, for years I've had a reminder on my phone to fulfill her request for a lobster balloon in honor of her brother Jack. They had some inside jokes about lobsters from their early days observing the lobster tank in the grocery store, and wishing that could save them. "You're my PAL!" Jack would say to the lobsters, in a funny voice. And even though Jack and Margaret never had the chance to watch the tv show Friends together, I loved the association that lobsters stick together for life, as in, "You're my lobster." We've always considered Jack to be Margaret's lobster. 

At least 6 months before graduation, I started looking for lobster balloons. 

Her high school and college years were a jumble to me, as I felt torn between being a baby's mom and a teenager's mom, and not always doing well at either. We didn't go on many college visits when she was a junior, and the first two years of college we were so concerned about Covid, I don't feel like we were much of a haven to come home to. I couldn't run down to see her on campus at the spur of the moment if she got lonely or sick,  I did what I could, but everything took so much COORDINATION.

But I could buy a balloon. 

So I scoured ETSY and found two contenders. One was so big I wasn't sure it would float, so naturally I bought a back-up lobster. I purchased a helium tank, not wanting to leave anything to chance. I left sticky notes around the house. LOBSTER? LOBSTER?

By the time we got down to her school the day before graduation, our nerves were fraught. Tim had expectations about the time Margaret would spend with us, and he was annoyed that this didn't match up with her plans. I was fried from arranging dog care for Charlie, packing, getting Andrew out of first grade early, and trying to run interference between Tim and Margaret. I kept checking to make sure I had the balloons. 

Mainly, I believe we felt the unspoken emotional weight of not having gone through any of this with her big brother Jack two years before. As with many families even long after the rawness of grief has subsided, celebrations can include joy and yearning. Both/And.

In her apartment, we inflated the first balloon. 

It was big!

It was gorgeous!

It didn't float.

Our helium tank said it would have enough to inflate two large balloons, so we started to fill our back-up lobster. After it was plump, and full, and floaty, we gave it one extra squirt of helium.


It felt like a tightly wound ball of grief in my chest exploded. Hot tears sprang to my eyes as I failed to provide the one thing I had promised Margaret on this day. The one thing I could do, amidst so many things I couldn't. But I didn't just want to give her a lobster balloon. I wanted Jack there for his little sister, as so many brothers were that day. Grown-up sisters and brothers together, who had paved the way and supported each other during adolescence and college, whose photos were already popping up on my phone in celebration. 

In that moment I felt sick and weary of trying to keep forging ahead in whatever life handed us. Again and again and again. Jack was her lobster, and of course the damn lobster popped. I sat quietly on the balcony as Andrew rubbed my arm to comfort me. He may not have understood all the subtext, but young kids certainly relate to the sadness that comes with the sudden pop of a balloon.

Soon, we rallied, because that is what we do. I went to an amazing party store and got what they had left. A giant M, a Margarita for  "Margaret," and a Sponge Bob because she and Jack had watched every episode together. 

We tucked ourselves in early and left the partying to the other parents. 

The next morning, the graduates were up at 5, per tradition, heading to the strip of bars on the corner across from the university. They were a jumble of caps, gowns, champagne bottle, selfies and giant balloons. It was a gorgeous day, and during the ceremony, we were able to spot our beautiful Margaret by the balloons she carried. We listened to an amazing speech about loss and community.

Later, Margaret sent me these photos so I'd know that while her non-floating lobster may have gotten lost somewhere on the way to the procession, he had made it out for some of the early-morning hoopla with the graduates. 

Love you, Margaret!