At the end of the summer before my oldest child’s senior year in high school, I stocked up on two things: purse-sized packs of tissues and waterproof mascara.
I’d seen all the posts about how senior year is, for the mom of the grad-to-be, a continual series of waterworks. I fully expected to need my tissues and my mascara. I don’t cry at the drop of a hat, but the last time our family watched The Greatest Showman, I sobbed uncontrollably during “From Now On.” I’ve also been known to tear up when I’m watching Little House on the Prairie on my kitchen DVD/TV combo…and not just when I’m chopping onions.
Letting Go of Your High School Senior
I didn’t necessarily think I would cry out of sadness at all the “lasts” and ceremonial celebrations that would dot the senior year of a daughter I was (and still am) crazy about; I was happy about where she was and where she was going. But I did fully expect that the bigness and significance of so many moments along the way would show up as tears, even if they were tears of joy.
I thought maybe I would cry on my senior’s last first day of high school, especially when I watched her and my younger daughter drive off for their last first day of school together. I took the requisite pictures and made appropriate noises about how precious it was and how it was the last first and all that. No tears, though.
I thought maybe I would cry when my daughter had her senior pictures taken, reminding me of when she had her first baby pictures taken. I watched her pose and smile, and I thought about how I couldn’t wait to see the final results of her photo shoot so I could start shamelessly sharing them everywhere. No tears, though.
I thought maybe I would cry at her last home football game with the marching band, when she stood center field and played her “Fiddler on the Roof” senior clarinet solo, one picked especially for her. I yelled and clapped and cheered and told people, “That’s my girl!” No tears, though.
I thought maybe I would cry that spring when she played her last full band concert, performing a six-minute solo with all her musical peers backing her up. I was so nervous that I squeezed my husband’s hand harder, he said, than I had when I was giving birth to the child playing the solo. No tears, though.
I thought maybe I would cry during her senior honors ceremony, when we watched her walk across the stage to receive awards that we knew exactly how hard she’d worked to earn. We clapped and gratefully received the congratulations of parents around us and thought again how proud we were of our girl. No tears, though.
Finally, I thought for certain I’d cry at her graduation ceremony. I binge-listened to “Pomp and Circumstance” to build up emotional immunity ahead of time. On the day, we sat in the stands, beamed at our daughter, and took pictures like crazy. No tears, though.
After all this, I was convinced the tears I hadn’t cried during the preceding months would show up in full force during my graduate’s senior dance recital. We watched her turn and tap and point and leap all over the stage and knew it was a moment we’d remember forever. Still no tears, though.
Those tears never did come…not even at some weird moment when I wasn’t expecting them, like when I was packing up leftover meatballs after my daughter’s graduation party. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t moved by all of the moments and events. I gave myself over to them without reservation. I didn’t go about them robotically. I never felt like I was holding back my emotions, trying to keep myself under control. I leaned into the full weight of what was ending and the full hope of what was beginning.
Maybe I didn’t cry because I knew there was a pretty good likelihood I’d have a chance to do senior year all over again with my second and last baby. Or maybe other emotions—pride at my daughter’s recognitions, nervousness at her final performances—trumped tears. But apart from the fact that my waterproof mascara proved unnecessary, the year of lasts and firsts was exactly what I thought it would be…what I wanted and needed it to be.
Now, from where I’m standing some distance on the other side of that year, I understand there’s no one right way to feel or react when you’re the mom of a senior. By that point, you’ve earned the right to feel what you feel. And, you’ve earned the right, mostly, to show those feelings—or not—however you want to, whether you bawl because it’s your grad’s last first day of the last month of school or shed nary a tear all the way through the final note of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Either way, your heart will be spilling over.
And when my second and last baby’s senior year rolls around, you can bet I’ll be keeping a stash of tissues close at hand, just in case.
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.