Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.
Keara walks down the aisle after graduation.

This is a post that has been begging to be written for weeks now, but it’s something I’ve been putting off, perhaps because writing about it makes it far too real.

Two weeks ago today, my sweet Kiko, known to the world as Keara Moses Kirkpatrick, graduated from The Academy of Our Lady of Peace. In just over two months, she will be going away to college. As individuals and as a family, we are in a time of transition. There is joy and sadness, eagerness and anxiety, hope and nostalgia for all that has been and all that will be.

We attended a beautiful ceremony at her school, but I am a big believer in rituals, so we couldn’t leave it at that. While both ceremonies and rituals use words and actions to mark the significant events in our lives, they operate on different plains. Ceremonies signify the outer experience; they are the stuff of photo opportunities and awards, for public consumption on a large scale. Rituals take place in more intimate spaces, sometimes with no more than one, or two present. Ideally, they speak to the interior processes that the ceremony celebrates. Rituals can be sacramental, in the broadest sense of the word: personal, grace-filled moments that transcend our every day experiences. Ceremonies can be organized by anyone; rituals are best experienced by those we love.

One of my favorite rituals is to write my kids letters, annually on Holy Thursday, but also for significant events in their lives. It offers me an opportunity to look back at what they’ve done and who they’ve been, as well as dream about who are they are becoming and what they might do. Sharing those letters with my kids, out loud and sometimes in the presence of others, is always a sacred experience. In case they had forgotten in the course of their daily lives, they are reminded of the power and possibility of their own story.

At Keara’s graduation party, with our family and close friends gathered around us, I toasted her with the following speech. I am posting it here, not only to share my own pride and joy, but also perhaps to inspire you to find a way to “ritualize” the next milestone in the life of someone you love. You don’t need to worry about being particularly eloquent, or using a lot of words. They don’t even have to be your own. Your favorite poet, or songwriter might know just what to say. If you’re nervous, allow them to do so. The important thing is to find some special way to connect what has occurred on the outside with what is happening on the inside. An expression of your Love and perspective may be the very thing that propels them forward with greater joy, confidence and determination.

Graduation toast, given on May 30, 2015

A couple weeks ago, Keara went on retreat with her senior class at OLP and they asked her parents to write her a letter. I thought today might be a perfect day to share some of my thoughts from that letter with all of you, her family and friends, who love and support her and have watched her grow over the years.

While I was writing the letter, I was listening to “Never Grow Up” by Taylor Swift and reminiscing about all the stages and ages she’s been through over the last eighteen years. She is on the verge of going to college, moving out on her own, for a while at least, and maybe forever.

The first age Swift talks about is infanthood, with “your little hands wrapped around my finger…” I still remember those days, when I held her in my arms ALL THE TIME. She was only happy being held in my arms or Tim’s, and even then not always. But she quickly became a happy baby, big smiles, big love all around. As all of you know, Keara was a priceless gift to me – my daughter, the one I got to keep and raise and hold and love and dress and play with. Keara, even though I had your dad, until I became your mom, there was a little bit of an emptiness in me. But your presence filled me up and gave my life more meaning and purpose and great, great joy.

Taylor Swift goes on in her chorus to say,

“Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little. Oh darling don’t you ever grow up, don’t you ever grow up, it could stay this simple. I won’t let nobody hurt you. Won’t let noone break your heart. No, no one will desert you. Just try to never grow up. Never grow up.”

Though the teeniest part of me sang along with Ms. Swift, I’ve never clung to the chorus, or the meaning of her song with you, or Finn, or Molly. Even when you were just toddling around, I couldn’t wait to see who you would become and what you would do with your life.

The possibility of you has always been endlessly fascinating to me.

You have become all I hoped for and more. In elementary school, it became clear how smart you were, how disciplined, how engaged, how fun-loving. Your teachers all loved you and you had good friends. Some of them moved away and some friendships faded and my heart broke a little to see your confusion and sadness at the loss of relationships you had invested in. You didn’t want to talk about it, but I knew and tried to support you with love and encouragement. And you always managed to find new friendships that were even better, because you have such a good heart, imagination and willingness to engage with people.

I know that pattern has repeated itself in high school as well and I hope you know it’s okay. Although it’s not the way friendships are “supposed to go,” according to Hollywood and TV shows, it’s actually true of most people’s life experiences. Friends come and go. If you are changing – and I hope you are always changing – then friendships will change too. People grow in different directions. When something dies, even relationships, it becomes the soil from which something new, something richer can be born. (I will stop with my usual lecture theme now. I can feel you rolling your eyes!)

When you went to middle school, I watched you step into your individuality even more, or at least try to find it. Like T Swift, I would have liked to say to you, “Don’t lose the way that you dance around in your pjs getting ready for school.” You did lose it for a little bit, but through the last four years of high school, that joyful, funny, smart, playful soul has resurfaced and you will dance around in your pjs (or anything else), at any time of day or night. It makes me so happy when I see the little girl you once were, in your smile and laughter as you move.

I wish that I could say that, like Ms. Swift claims that “No one’s ever burned you; Nothing’s ever left you scarred,” but I know that’s not true. I’ve seen you hurt, but I’ve also seen you rise again, every time. You know how to cry, but you also know how to start over. You know how to pick yourself up, put on your lipstick (the feminine sword and shield) and go back out there to be an even stronger, more resilient, and confident woman.

I hope I’ve earned your trust and that you will allow me to stand by you forever, as your mother and as the woman who loves you most in the world, as someone who will always encourage you and lift you up in Love.

I will always, we, this family, will always, always, always lift you up in Love. We will always be loyal to Keara Moses, who we fell in love with before she was born and will love beyond this life.

There are things I think you are and will be forever, Keara. The young woman I know, Love and respect is independent, funny, creative, talented, compassionate, smart, passionate and fiery. I could also include your inner strength, confidence, individuality, determination, independence, and ability to stand out in that list of qualities. None of those gifts came easily to you and I recognize the work you’ve done to become the person you want to be, the kind of woman you admire. You also have interests that I love to watch you involved in, like baking, sewing, music, costumes, makeup, hair, fashion, acting, dancing and the list goes on…

Let me just say that these lists are incomplete, for your life is only beginning. The first eighteen years of life are formative and fun and filled with memories that shape who you will become. But the next sixty and seventy years ahead are also those things. Life is incredible raw material for meaning, purpose, passion and happiness and I’ve seen what you do with raw materials: You create beauty! It’s unique, a little dark around the edges, but fantastically powerful. You’ve done it in all sorts of mediums and so I have total confidence that you will do it with your very self and the life you’ve been given.

“Never Grow Up” ends like this:

“Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room. Memorize what it sounded like when your dad gets home. Remember the footsteps; remember the words said, and all your little brother’s favorite songs…”

Take your memories with you throughout life Keara and I hope they are more good than bad, but don’t look back with longing or regret. Your future holds so much promise and joy. I could not be prouder of the daughter we’ve raised and I know you will continue to do great work. We believe in you and are here for you, always.


In this time of graduations and weddings, “Cheers!” says something, but your Love can say a lot more. Don’t be afraid to speak up. We need to. We assume our loved ones know how we feel about them, but they don’t, not really, unless we told them yesterday.

All of us, not just our children, long to be seen, in our joy and pain, to have our triumphs applauded and our struggles encouraged. A kiss on the cheek, a hug on the way out the door, a mumbled, “I love you,” can’t possibly communicate the depth of our feelings for the complex, beautiful people we live with and among. So when the next occasion arises, or perhaps for no occasion at all, find a way to say more than comes easily and make the moment a sacred one.

My cousin and fellow blogger, Allison Sebastiani, recently started a campaign called Gratitude Mondays. Each week, she publicly thanks someone who has had an impact on her life. I loved her idea, but I didn’t make a public promise to do the same. It was a nice invitation, but I didn’t think it was meant for me. I was wrong. Before the week was out, I received my very own invitation made up of one part coincidence, two parts gratitude, and whatever parts are left over to humility.

The kids and I were visiting Huntington Beach last weekend and my brother invited us to go to church with his family on Sunday evening. As I sat in the back row of St. Bonaventure Catholic Church, my mind drifted to memories of a boy I used to know. He was tall, redheaded, freckle-faced, funny, sweet and kind. He wasn’t just any boy. He was my date to junior prom and senior homecoming, though not my date to anything in between. As teenage girls are known to do, I liked him and then I didn’t. I wanted to go out with him and then “something suddenly came up.” I am not proud of the way I handled my friendship with him, but at the time, it seemed perfectly acceptable. At 17, hormones and emotions ruled the day.

As I sat in his childhood parish, Allison’s “Thank You” challenge came to mind and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for this now 40-year-old man, whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. I never planned to write this blog, but I knew what I would like to tell him if I ever got a chance. I would like to tell him that he holds a place in my heart as one of the kindest gentlemen I have ever met. He was my first model of what a gentle man is and what a gentle man does, a model I used to judge just about every man I dated after him. (Thank goodness Tim passed with flying colors!) I would like this man to know that his smile made my day, day after day, at Mater Dei. I would like him to know that his quirky sense of humor, his ability to be himself, his kindness to his family, friends and strangers were all things I appreciated about him. I would like him to know that being asked to those dances, getting dressed up and spending those evenings with him are some of my fondest high school memories.

At one point in our friendship, he gave me a picture of himself as a toddler and from that moment on, I always hoped to have a redheaded, freckle-faced little boy of my own. Though I never got the hair, Finn’s freckles are part of what makes him my pride and joy.

So as I sat and kneeled and stood and sang, my heart filled up like a helium balloon with thankfulness for who this man was and the role he played in my teenage life. He was just so good and I wondered how I could track him down and tell him so.

But of course, I didn’t have to. As I walked into the communion aisle, who was coming out of the pew directly across from me at the exact same time? My redheaded friend, of course! I about jumped out of my skin I was so excited. I mean, GOD IS GOOD! This is the invitation I had been waiting for – the chance to tell him all the things I want him to know! This is awesome, I thought to myself and then I immediately punched him in the arm to get his attention, just like I used to in high school. He looked up from his holy reverie, shocked, because really, no one expects to get punched in the communion line, but come on! It’s been twenty years! He looked at me with really big eyes and kind of half-smiled and then returned his focus to the little space in front of him, occupied by his wife and their 3 young children. He seemed a little nonplussed to see me after so long, but that’s okay, I thought, because he doesn’t know what’s coming! He doesn’t know that I have a heart full of gratitude and a bunch of nice things to say to his wife about him. He doesn’t know any of that, but as soon as mass is over, he will!  

I kept an eye on him to find where they were sitting. I planned to run over as soon as the last song ended. I pointed him out to my kids, who have seen his picture in old photo albums. Keara giggled and said, “That’s your ginger, mom?” with a huge smile on her face. They were excited to meet an old friend of mine.

But a funny thing happened before the last song ended. He left! He and his wife and his three darling, freckle-faced kids walked out of the building, without once looking my way to even nod, or wave goodbye. And as I watched them walk away, all the air got sucked out of my helium balloon of happiness. I went from walking on air to concrete boots. Part of it was that I wouldn’t have a chance to express my gratitude, but part of it was my wounded pride. In my fervor, I assumed my feelings would be reciprocated, at least in some small way. Though I didn’t expect the same level of excitement, I thought I might generate a friendly feeling, or maybe even a glimmer of curiosity about what I’d been up to all this time. And although I can’t know for sure what was going on in his mind, I don’t think I warranted a second thought. And that makes me sad, but it doesn’t make me any less thankful, which is why I’m writing this blog.

I wish I could tell you his name and post our prom picture, so I could give him the credit I think he deserves. I wish I could use social media to track him down, but after the way our chance encounter played out, I have a feeling the publicity wouldn’t be welcome. Back in high school, our song was the 80s hit “I’d Melt With You,” but apparently it’s been replaced by Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He might like it better, but I don’t think it has quite the same ring to it.

What I need to remember is that gratitude is a gift – to us. It makes our hearts larger, softer and more open to life. It makes us bigger, kinder, more positive people. Expressions of gratitude are a gift we give to other people and as gifts, they can be accepted or rejected. We can’t force it down their throat. A lot depends on who’s offering, but it doesn’t change the fact that the attitude of gratitude (pardon the cliché) is what’s most important.

I limped out of St. Bonaventure with my thwarted plans and busted-up ego. I called Tim and told him the story and he laughed with (or at) me (I’m not sure) and I felt better. I had dinner with my kids, my parents and my lovely little nieces. I laughed and loved and was grateful for their company and I was able to tell them so. I hope someday to be able to tell my redheaded friend as well, but first I have to make him stick around long enough to listen to me.