Guest Commentrary: The last of the lasts
May brings graduation. Pomp and circumstance. Mortar boards and tassels. Hurriedly snapped pictures before the rush to the all-night grad party.
With nine children, each spaced two years apart, this milestone event has been a biannual staple at our house since Eldest, a daughter, first blazed the trail with the millennial Class of 2000 some 18 years ago.
The youngest, born that previous fall, was still a nursing baby not yet a year old. As a soon-to-be registered nurse student, Eldest had asked to be in on that delivery and it was she, not the doctor, who was the first to tearfully and incredulously announce, "It's a boy!"
In our family, this was news. Big news. Baby boy parts had been on backorder since No. 2 had debuted 16 years earlier. At the time, we'd felt he might be our only boy, so we'd changed his middle name to his dad's at the last minute.
Indeed, that intuition had proven true time and time and time and, well, for six consecutive girls. With each pink addition, people would ask, "Aren't you tired of trying for that boy yet?"
Honestly, we didn't think there'd be one. The name change had been for a reason. Besides, we'd grown used to swimming in a sea of estrogen. It was comfortable — normal, even. As normal as female hormones can be. So when our soon-to-be-nurse made her shocking announcement, her hubby skeptically leaned over the bedside to look.
"It's a whaaat?" Then he threw his head back and laughed his famous Hubby Laugh while everyone joined in — laughter and tears and shock mixing together in a clamor of joy.
It remains one of my favorite birth memories — made possible because ultrasounds were not yet routine and delivery was our gender reveal.
As the millennium dawned, the day-to-day fabric of life shifted as Eldest took her sheepskin and flew off to college — in Texas! Two years later, No. 2 followed suit, then No. 3. Then, one by one, quietly, steadily, yet barely noticeable, like the ticking of a clock, the next five babies also earned their tassels and marched on.
But this year is unique. While each child's milestones were important and raucously celebrated, we'd always had another child, another year, another chance, another box to check. With nine, multiples of every event had become such a long-standing, ingrained pattern that it all felt permanent. Forever.
So today, I'm struggling to reconcile how that wiggly baby on my lap at Sister's graduation has magically morphed into the young man taking his own lanky strides across the stage this week.
Senior year passed in a dreamlike "last-of-the-lasts" chronology that evoked its own kind of grief. A prolonged grief experienced not once, but at every event. The last soccer game, the last track meet, the last prom, the last — everything.
I chided myself with trite warnings I'd heard from elderly ladies years ago who'd gazed wistfully at the barely contained chaos swirling around my feet:
"They grow so fast. Time flies. Enjoy these days. Before you know it ..."
As much as I tried, somehow I'd blinked. On Friday, May 25, I watched my baby — this whistling, too-hard on himself, deep thinker — cross the stage in purple with his hard-earned honor cord and Honors of Distinction Medallion. We whistled and applauded. We laughed and cheered. We took pictures and smiled proudly at who he's become.
Yet, a tinge of melancholy hung in the air. The parents felt it and lingered. The graduates were oblivious, for the most part, anxious to head to their all-night festivities — even more anxious to start their adult chapter.
Yep, the world is waiting; the stage is set. Yet, pardon me if underneath all of the outward hoopla, this mama cries a little on the inside. Happy tears to be sure. But mixed in with the pride and joy is a little sadness, a little regret that this is the last child, the last box, the last of the lasts.
Another life, in a sense, is being born. One that requires letting go of all I've held onto, all I've invested, all I've poured out. Fearing a little that maybe I wasn't quite enough for the momentous, miraculous task entrusted to my care.
While graduation may not be the end of the story, a page has turned, a chapter is closing. I hope you pause to take it all in. To recognize the journey and sacrifice that led you here. I hope you walk tall and proud, confident and sure — but most of all, I pray you walk knowing you are deeply loved.