Raise your hand if you remember how it felt to wish time away. If you’re the parent of a high school senior, I bet it’s hard. But you did at one point. You wished for the day when you wouldn’t have diapers to change or didn’t have to cut food up into a jillion miniscule pieces. You wished for the day you could go on vacation without packing enough equipment to open a Babies R Us.
As much as the thought of your child driving terrified you, you wished she was old enough to drive herself to practice every Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and pick herself up from the movies at midnight. You wished for a Friday night where you and your husband could spontaneously go to dinner. Or spontaneously have sex. (Remember that?) And now, with graduation flying at you at warp speed, you wish desperately that time would slow down…or better yet, stop altogether.
I get it, because two years ago I was doing the same thing. However, I’m afraid I wasn’t successful in halting the inevitable hands of time—the same hands that potty-trained my daughter, taught her to chew before swallowing, and navigated her through the streets of town—no matter how much I bargained and bartered.
In my case, things began slipping out of control about the end of junior year, right after we’d visited the college that she knew—instantly—was the perfect fit. Her palpable enthusiasm was contagious, and because my brain consciously didn’t allow itself to accept the fact that she could, indeed, be 300 miles away one day (my brain is besties with my heart, obviously), I put it out of my mind and threw myself wholeheartedly into the natural, frenzied excitement of the situation. After all, I had over a year until the unavoidable happened. Plenty of time to wallow, right? Wrong. Because much like all the other instances I’d wished time away, it got here before I knew it.
If your child is thisclose to graduation, here’s how I imagine the timeline of your past year has gone so far:
High School Senior Year Calendar
Summer – One month spent relaxing and gearing up for all the excitement of high school senior year and two months spent telling yourself on a daily basis, “next year at this time we’ll be [blank] days away from the dreaded goodbye,” chased with a hefty swig of uneasiness…and wine.
Fall – Senior year and all the “lasts” began. Last first day of school, last football game, last Homecoming dance, last fall musical or concert, last Wednesday in the middle of October he or she will be home: You exhaustively detailed all of them on social media with exclamation marks and happy face emojis in an effort to balance out the conflicting emotions brewing inside your chest. It was only fall! You had plenty of time!
Holidays – Don’t even.
Early January – With the arrival of the graduation year that once seemed ridiculously and impossibly far into the future, things got real. You began looking up graduation party ideas on Pinterest and became so completely overwhelmed by mason jars and striped paper straws and chalkboards that you put it out of your mind and decided to worry about it later. You’ve gotten good at that, after all.
February – The lasts slowed down, but the stress of waiting for acceptance letters was at an all time high. “Be careful what you wish for” became a description of your own personal hell as the battle between your head and your heart raged on.
March – If you had younger kids, March quite possibly meant the last spring break trip you took as a family due to conflicting schedules in the coming years. It’s okay, though, you made sure to be someplace where copious amounts of rum helped you forget about it, even if that place was your own kitchen.
Which brings us to April. The month the panic sets in as the big, red, circled date on your calendar is only a page or two away. Things on your to-do list, I imagine?
• Spend countless hours and as many tears locating old childhood photos for the collages you’ve always planned to have at the grad party or the sentimental album you’ve imagined gifting on graduation. Bitch at the 16-years-ago you who promised herself she’d keep those scrapbooks up to date…and scoff at the year-ago-you who thought about it but told herself there was still plenty of time.
• Begin to think about things like dorm room shopping, college finances, and how big of a can of mace is acceptable to hang on a key chain more realistically than ever before.
• Start to spruce up your house for the grad party, which basically means calling the HGTV crew and starting over.
• Begin to fill in the summer calendar and try to ignore the pit that forms in your stomach when you see that the number of free days you have with your high school senior is suddenly—alarmingly—low. Frantically throw yourself back into that photo hunt. Hey, you might as well be useful while feeling like crap about your selfishness.
Something you might have noticed I left of the list? The very lasts of high school senior year. The most dreaded ones that are about to come at fast and furiously. Prom, end-of-year banquets, the last finals, and the straw that might threaten to break your back, the last last day of school (tip: have a mimosa in celebration—just try not to let the tears water it down).
But the point here isn’t to make you dissolve into a wet pile of anguish and dread, despite the fact that it might be too late for both of those things. The point is this: You can’t stop time with your high school senior, but more importantly, you certainly can’t get any of these moments back once they’ve passed. So let your heart ache a bit (or even more than a bit), but don’t ignore your head, you know, the one that keeps trying to remind you how wonderful and exciting all these lasts are. Because I’m here to tell you that if you can find a balance between both, you may be astonished at how much you’ll be able to appreciate all the extraordinary firsts that are coming your way, just as fast.
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Michelle Newman is a reformed stay-at-home mom of two teenage girls and lives in Minnesota, where she spends four months a year in hibernation and denial. She’s had essays published in several humor anthologies and on various websites, and is a Community contributor at EW.com. She writes about life and other distractions at youremyfavoritetoday.com. You can find her on Twitter and on Facebook.