Listening to parents of kindergartners in the early fall often brings a smile to my face, along with a twinge of impatience, as they somewhat naively intone, “It was so hard to say goodbye to Mikey when the bus came. How can he be in kindergarten already? To think this is his first day of school!”
But those folks don’t have anything on the parents of high school seniors, who are all about the lasts from August through May.
Over and over I’ve heard friends and acquaintances with seniors bemoan throughout their child’s twelfth-grade year, “It’s Junior’s last baseball game,” or “Can you believe this is Susie’s final choir concert?” or “Where has the time gone? Stevie just took his last algebra test,” or, perhaps most commonly (and sometimes with nearly teary eyes), “It’s hard to believe this was Lacey’s last first day of school. I can’t think about her not being here next year!”
Now it’s my turn–I have a Class of 2013 senior, and the year is more than halfway over. But for me, these months haven’t been so much about all the “lasts” as they have been about the “firsts.” Why? Well, my senior is the first of three children, so he’s always been (for better or worse) the trailblazer for his parents and siblings in all things related to child-rearing and school.
How vividly I remember combing through “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” closely followed by “What to Expect the First Year”–all the rage in parenting guides in the mid-’90s–and tracking each month’s progress, from pregnancy to his first birthday, with focus and intensity. There was no “What to Expect the Second Year” published then, though, and I felt more than a little adrift after the lone birthday candle was blown out (atop his all-natural, no-sugar, whole wheat flour- and wheat germ-based cake–natch, it was my first kid). What happens now? Isn’t the journey over? Can someone please tell me what to do NEXT?
Indeed, the parenting marathon was only just beginning, and I quickly realized those early days were the easy ones, though at the time they seemed the most difficult. Haul a baby in a car seat? Manual labor, yes, but no sweat compared to when the little guy was running all over the place, evading the guiding parental hand in the grocery store parking lot or jumping off a seven foot-high ladder at the park. In those first months, naps were a given and there was almost no food refusal and no arguing, begging or complaining–just pure, sweet baby love.
Fast forward to 12th grade, and it’s once again all about the firsts–the first time to order a cap and gown, the first time to orchestrate a graduation party, the first time to file the FAFSA for financial aid (NOT our favorite), the first time to navigate the college search process, the first time to help a child prepare for leaving the nest, the first time to shepherd a son or daughter through a senior photo shoot.
And having a first son, rather than an eldest daughter, the indoor senior pictures took place only on President’s Day. “What’s the rush?” he’d asked last March when area photographers began inundating the mailbox with discount offers for timely bookings. “I’m not a senior yet.”
Hence, it was just this week that we schlepped a few different outfits and some school activity paraphernalia to a local photo studio. There, I finally felt the circle nearing its close, remembering having carried him in my arms into the very same space for 9-month-old photos shortly after moving here almost 18 years ago. This time, the six-footer walked in on his own two size-12 feet, with plenty of opinions to match his confident stride.
As the same photographer helped him pose and preen for a variety of shots, it was impossible not to feel the rush of time gone by and to contemplate the multitude of “teachable moments,” highs, lows, accidents and triumphs that had filled the intervening years.
But still, it was another first for us, with two more kids yet to pass through these same senior rituals and hurdles. As the months bound ahead, we will have conquered another round of firsts, thanks to this first child, and hopefully he will have gained something from us just as we have from him. So this year, I refuse to dwell on the lasts but will continue to celebrate the firsts.
After all, one definition of “commencement” is “a formal beginning.”