Life With Georgia

by Nancy Walton

Life With Georgia

Milestones and Umami: Georgia Graduates


So it’s the month of milestones. Birthdays, graduation, change.

Milestones. Groan.

Georgia is graduating from Grade 8. She’s moving into high school. She turned 14 this weekend. I can say it all with a smile but also through gritted teeth.

I don’t know why but milestones are tough for me. Maybe they are for everyone and I’ve just been frightfully unaware, but I find them unbearably tough. Tough to the point of having that irrational desire that (admit it) all rational people occasionally have on hearing the sound of the alarm and the birds in the morning:  pull up the covers and lie there hoping the milestone will just pass and go on its way. It’s not a particularly adaptive desire, and one that I haven’t acted upon. At least not for longer than the snooze button allows.

People get excited about milestones. Understandably. There was an end-of-year concert at Georgia’s school and last night there was the graduation ceremony. Her birthday found us in the backyard, barbecuing and entertaining the wide range of generous, warm people who love her. People keep asking me how great it is for me to have a kid graduating from grade 8. It’s great. Yep.

But I admit that I have a bit of that I-wish-I-was-just-under-the-quilt feeling.

Let me try to explain. Bear with me, dear reader.


For many years, we learned that there are four basic tastes: Sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Somewhere about the early 20th century, a Japanese researcher named Kikunae Ikeda figured out that there was, in fact, a fifth taste. Something that wasn’t quite sweet, sour, bitter or salty: a taste that existed on the edges of those four typical taste experiencesand blended some of the things about them into a unique formulation: Umami.

Umami was officially identified and named in 1985 but still remains a mystery to many palates.

Umami is most often described as a “meaty” or “savoury” taste and it is acknowledged that it’s hard to pin down in the same way that we can easily describe and identify “salty” or “sweet”. It’s broader, less specific. It’s something often described as being much more than a simple one-dimensional taste.

Umami is how I feel about milestones. Spring concerts, graduations, birthdays. It might be all mixed up mid-life hormones (so you do know what I’m talking about here) but I have a complete and utter fifth-taste reactions to most milestones. While most people would describe the feelings at their kid’s grade eight graduation as “happy” or “bittersweet” or “proud” or even “excited,” I’m feeling, well, umami. I’m feeling a feeling that I can’t quite find in the thesaurus that is on the edge of all of these feelings and a bit of a blend of them. It’s not as “happy” or as “excited” as I think others want me to be. The feeling is happy, yes and excited — but it is also worry, fatigue, concern, angst, sadness and that feeling of loss and difference I try to push away.

At Georgia’s spring concert, her class of kids with special needs performed a cool choreographed dance to a pop song. She was too giggly, overwhelmed and excited to do many of the moves but did get in a few wild hip-grinding moves that were a little bit more of the new Miley than the old. Everyone is kind and wonderful saying how great she was.And she was. Truly.

I’m proud of her and her accomplishments; this includes her seriously wild and groovy dance moves. But watching other kids half her age singing complicatedly beautiful solos and generating whoops of enthusiasm from genuinely impressed grown-ups, there is a taste of something else at the back of my throat. Umami.


My lovely, lovely kid – like other grade 8 girls – wants to wear a dress and hairband to graduation. I am secretly thrilled. But I know that I’ll feel that inevitable wistful, heartache-y feeling seeing her lined up with the other grade 8 girls who will look and act just so different from her.

I’m used to this. Really, I am – but being used to something doesn’t make it easier. As she grows, her “difference” from other kids in her cohort becomes more and more apparent and the looming shadow of high school opens up that chasm of difference. I want the world to be kind to her when they see that difference, and I worry that the world will not be as kind as I would wish.

I worry that I’m not being a good enough mom for this wonderful and evolving person who is inextricably complex. And who will need the kind of guidance and encouragement that some days I really have to work to generate. I worry about not always showing that I’m  as proud as I am — or expecting more than I should. I worry about how not to compare her to typical kids her age, kids who will now become her companions only in order to fill up their required volunteer hours.

I worry about whether or not she will ever develop real true BFF friendships, one of the greatest things about adolescence. I worry about her being taken advantage of or about her being bullied or teased or worse. I worry about her never being able to read, while her counterparts recite valedictorian speeches in French. I worry that she’s getting a grade 8 diploma and can’t write more than her name. I worry she’ll get lost in the educational system that gets more expansive and more complicated every year she gets older.

I worry about what she’ll do with her grown-up days once her peers have graduated and gone off to university or college or found jobs. I worry about who will take care of her one day when I’m not around. Honestly, I worry about whether or not she’ll ever be able to learn to tie her shoes to get to school. These are the wildly complicated things that will, for a few seconds, take their turn rushing through my head. Right alongside the pride and happiness, as I watch her onstage at graduation. Umami.

Milestones are wonderful things. By their very definition, they are events marking a significant change. They provide reference points along the road of life. And they elicit lots of complicated feelings for lots of people for lots of reasons. Not just me, I know. There are many who would like to do that whole under-the-quilt thing for a whole range of milestones.

But nope. I show up. I cheer her on with a genuine smile. I hold up my iPad just as high as the parent behind me to record her getting her diploma. I cry as much as the mom beside me, who may never know it’s for different kinds of reasons.

I’ll continue to be proud of Georgia’s accomplishments and unique abilities and love her madly.

I’ll try to help the world to be as kind to her as I would wish for. And maybe I’ll also work a bit at washing down the umami with a cold glass of celebratory champagne.

Happy graduation to the kid I love most of all.


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