Last May, while my oldest daughter Cameron was still a junior in high school, was the first time I felt viscerally, the reality of her imminent graduation and subsequent moving out for college.
Up until then, this event had been something remote, distant, and “years” away.
But in May, I had a front row seat to many of my daughter’s friend’s graduations, as well as my own friend’s children’s graduations. I started to feel an empathetic ache in my own heart as I watched these kids move through the process of their graduation.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I wasn’t so much watching the kids graduate. I was watching the moms watch their children graduate.
Senior Year is a year of firsts, too
I handed the moms tissues, I offered hugs and positive words. I wrote pithy little notes in graduation cards about a future of possibility to the girls who graduated from my daughter’s dance team. As my pen rolled across the cards, I realized that it was now my turn to enter the “year of lasts.”
This school year, I realized, would be the last year that I would have to make two lunches each morning, and try to remember who likes cheddar cheese on her sandwich and who prefers provolone. This would be the last year of watching Cameron sing in her high school choir concerts. This would be the last year watching her dance in competitions and recitals, or even waiting for her to get home from school, bang on the front door and then listen to her yell at me for locking the door in the first place.
We are just a few months into the school year, but I’m already feeling the effects of throwing around the word “last” so often. It’s a word that connotes endings and finish lines, no do-overs, and no returns. It comes with mourning. And loss. And grief. It’s a powerful, impactful word that, with each uttering, causes my heart to cave further inward.
My “year of lasts” list grew again just a few days ago. While attempting to coordinate all four of our schedules to find a time to go out and buy a Christmas tree together, Cameron said, “Mom, you know, this is the last year I’ll be buying a tree with you.” She said this (how dare she?) without a single ounce of sadness.
I heard the word “last,” and my mind began racing: the last year to buy a tree together, the last holiday season with her living here, the last time we open presents in our bathrobes, the last, the last, the last.
Last. Final. End. Tears. Pain. Loss.
The tears, though, I thought not about what my daughter had said, but how she had said it. She had smiled mischievously, and in her eyes, I saw a sparkle of possibility and adventure. The fact was, she said it without sadness, because she wasn’t really sad about it.
My daughter is not dreading the unknown. She is not in mourning about this being her last year of high school. She’s not thinking about her life in terms of finality, or grief, or loss, or endings. Only I am. She is thinking about her life in terms of new beginnings, opportunities, and fresh starts. And so should I.
When I was a senior in high school, and had tagged along behind my own parents to buy a Christmas tree, I was not in mourning, either. All I could think about were the many new beginnings and firsts that lay ahead of me.
Where might Cameron be next year around this time? We don’t know yet. Who might she buy a tree with? It could be anyone. Or no one. Might she choose a tiny artificial tree for her dorm room, as I once did? Oh, that was fun! I went to Target and bought myself a tiny tree, a set of bulbs, and special ornaments that spoke just to me.
I don’t want to look back on this time in our lives and remember a caved-in heart. There will be enough sadness and missing her without sticking the word “last” on everything.
Life is circular not linear; every ending is a new beginning and how we travel through life is all about perspective. The words we choose to label the events of our lives shape that perspective.
So, I’ve decided that I am no longer going to think about this year as the “year of lasts.” Instead, I will call this, my oldest daughter’s senior year, a “year of firsts.”
This will be the first time I have a child graduate from high school.
This will be the first year she applies to college.
She just received her first acceptance letter!
She also received her first merit award.
This is the first year she paid for her parking ticket with her own hard-earned money.
This is the first year she pretty much handles all her own laundry, personal errands, conflicts, and work, school, and dance schedules. While this has been happening slowly for several years, the transition is now complete, and it’s quite a weight off my shoulders.
This is the first year that I get to plan a graduation party. For the first time in many years, all of her extended family will come together to support her and honor her achievements in life.
I’m certain that as the year proceeds the items on my “year of firsts” list will grow, as will my joy and anticipation at witnessing, and actively participating in, Cameron’s joy and anticipation.
Her adult future is out there calling to her. I can’t wait to see what she does with it first.
Photo credit: Patrick
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