By Lisa Sugarman
Thirteen years. Thirteen profoundly life-changing years. That’s roughly two thousand three hundred and forty bagged lunches, twenty-seven violin recitals, eleven cross country and track banquets, eight trillion No. 2 pencils, dozens of lunch boxes and backpacks, countless school open houses and parent meetings and report cards, buckets of tears and laughter and failures and successes. And now, here we are, me with a tennis ball-size lump in my throat and my oldest daughter about to dress in her cap and gown and walk her last walk as a high school senior.
It all goes so shockingly fast. Faster than we can ever imagine when our kids are little and we’re embarking on what seems like an endlessly long trip.
And then it’s here. That moment. The moment that the last thirteen school years have led up to. That moment that we, as parents, quietly anticipate in the far corners of our minds. The moment we’re not sure will ever really come because there’s so much to be done in between the time we start the journey and when this part of it ends.
It’s so cumbersome, this idea of our children graduating from high school, that most of us can barely get our minds around it. And then it happens. The day comes when your daughter asks you for the money to buy her tassels for her cap and gown. That moment when you realize they’ve finally made it. They’ve done it. We’ve done it. We can exhale. But only long enough to draw in possibly the deepest breath we’ve ever had to take as parents—the one that allows us to say goodbye.
See, Riley is my first child to graduate from high school, so this column has been percolating since she started kindergarten. So needless to say, there’s a pretty hefty collection of memories and emotions and feelings ready to stream out once these flood gates open.
And I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are; when your oldest hits a milestone like graduating from high school, there’s just no way you’re not feeling something. It’s too big of a day for them and for us as parents not to need at least a pocket-size package of Kleenex nearby.
I mean, I really just don’t understand how it happens this fast that we go from swaddling our newborn to putting a deposit down on their freshman year of college. It’s a very time-warpy sensation as you get ready for graduation. And everyone always says, Enjoy it all while you can because they grow up soooooo fast, and new parents usually politely shrug it off and think Yeah, yeah, suuuuure it does. But it’s true. God is it true. It all goes faster than we can ever imagine back when we’re being wheeled out of the hospital with that little package cradled in our arms.
The second your toddler takes their first steps you have to just buckle that five-point harness tight and do your best to hang on, because life starts moving like fast forward x10 on your DVR. And it never actually stops. Not for a second.
Right now, to me, it feels like no more than eleven minutes ago since Riley’s cheeks had that orange beta-carotene tint from too many orange vegetables as an infant; and now she’s only a few days away from graduating from high school and moving on to the next stage of her life. (A stage which, just as an aside, involves living in a totally different place than under our roof.)
And that notion hits you in very different and very unpredictable ways as you approach graduation day.
Take last week, for example. I’m setting the table for dinner when it hits me like a puck to the back of the helmet that this time next year, I’ll be setting out three dinner plates every night instead of four. That’s a thought that’ll sober you up pretty quick once it creeps into your head.
The problem is, I’ve had such a contact high since September from the excitement of her living out her senior year, that I’ve barely paid attention to the fact that it’s all actually leading up to her moving on and moving out in the fall. I’ve just been enjoying all the fun.
I think it’s because senior year is just one long steady flow of electrified energy (between applying to schools, prom, senior projects, exams, classes, sports) that there’s really very little time built in to absorb what’s really happening. It’s all just so exciting.
What I’ve realized this year, though, in spite of all the chaos and the to-do lists and the emotions and the anticipation, is that she’s ready for this. Ready in ways I’m not sure I even appreciated until I saw her navigate this last year of her life. And I’ve come to understand that that’s the only thing that really matters.
She’s ready to cast out on her own and to carve a new path for herself. Ready for the classes and the independence and the opportunities and the new relationships that college will bring. She’s ready to make her own decisions and to find her own way. And while every parent’s darkest fear is that their child doesn’t need them anymore, I think it’s also our greatest triumph when we’ve raised a child who feels confident enough to let go of our hand and walk out into the world on their own. Because that’s the payoff. That’s the endgame.
The truth is, on the surface, senior year looks like it’s a big celebration of lasts and that’s why it tends to take our breath away. But what most of us fail to realize is that senior year is a cleverly disguised launching pad for new beginnings. It’s actually the doorway that leads them to rest of their life.
So as I softly cry behind my sunglasses this Sunday because this chapter is ending, I’ll also be celebrating everything that my sweet girl has accomplished in her life up to now. And I’ll be contemplating everything that still lies ahead.
And hopefully, if I can steal her away for a quiet moment during all the craziness, I’ll be able to find the words to thank her for bringing all the color to my world and for showing me the reason why I’m here in the first place. I’ll explain that I’m celebrating her and the powerful, beautiful woman she’s turned out to be. And I’ll do it with the knowledge that it’s finally time for her to get on with her future.
But most importantly, I’ll thank her, in advance, for taking all of her laundry with her when she goes. (Oh who am I kidding, I’m gonna miss that too.)
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.