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When you’re the parent of a senior, you never know what will start the ugly cry

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Photo by Julie Schlegel

I am the parent of a senior in high school. My algorithm online sends me articles about launching my young adult out into the world. My peers are posting pictures of their “Senior ‘22” teens and I am flooded with emotions as my beautiful daughter spends her last months in our home. I know she’ll be back, but these are the last months it’ll be the five of us, like it’s been, and like I love it to be.

I am also an obsessive counter-downer. When I was in school, I would count down my last 5-4-3-2-1 final exams and mark each day that had passed with a line on the calendar. When the kids were little, I would count down on their lunch napkins: “Four more weeks until summer!” “Three more days until the weekend!”

In fact, my current family calendar also has an X through each day that has passed, symbolic of a day I will not live again. That way I can stay prepared, know what’s coming, make sure to arrive at all the events and not leave a kid stranded without a ride across town. I can mark the passage of time and make sure I make the baseball tryouts, lacrosse games, dance shows, and work events.

When we vacation, my family groans when, four days into an eight-day vacation, I’m commenting that “I can’t believe it’s halfway done.” “I can’t believe we only have four more days.” They are complaining that I’m the wet blanket, unable to just enjoy the moment and live in the day I have. And perhaps I am. Nobody wants to think about the end of a vacation when there’s more time to enjoy.

January is now almost completely full of X’s on the calendar, which means I have less than five more months until high school graduation. The fact that senior year just started yesterday and January is almost done makes me feel like I’m holding on to the back of a train, heels in the mud trying to get it to slow down or stop while it pulls me along.

I hadn’t been too emotional about my daughter potentially leaving until a recent drive from Target to Whole Foods. At a red light, there was a perfect storm of Joni Mitchell singing “Both Sides, Now” on the radio and my glancing north to see a little girl, around 5 or 6 years old, wearing a turquoise helmet and riding her bike around the bayou.

That perfect storm set off a flood of memories and a torrent of tears in my car. Remembering how her dad ran behind her bike in the parking lot, teaching her to ride without training wheels. Remembering how he put elbow pads and knee pads on her so she wouldn’t get hurt if she fell. Remembering how she hated falling so much that, before she learned to stop the bike, she learned to gracefully leap off the bike and let the bike crash on its own.

Seeing that other little girl in the blue helmet brought it all back along with the tears – not just daintily-wipe-your-eyes-while-the-music-plays tears. We’re talking a full-out ugly cry with sobbing that would not stop for the next hour. Face swollen. Eyes red. Nose running. And exhaustedly, emotionally spent.

The passage of time is so interesting. When you’re in the daily grind of parenting, there are days that feel they’ll never end. You don’t think you can make one more meal, change one more diaper, put one more kid to bed. Then come the emotionally exhausting teen and tween years when everyone is going in different directions and the moods in the house are a daily roller coaster of walking on eggshells.

“The days are long but the years are short” is so, so true.

In hindsight, the passage of time goes so incredibly fast. The first days of kindergarten, middle school and high school were just yesterday. The transition from glittery clothes with “girl power” sayings on them to athleisure occurred without a mark on the calendar. And so did the transition from baby to girl to young woman.

I hope I will have many more decades of sharing life with my daughter. None of us is guaranteed a full seven or eight decades of life, but I hope to have more time. But the time I have left will not be taking her on a bike ride with an American Girl doll strapped to her back, fancy skirt flapping in the wind and turquoise flowered helmet on her head.

Those days have X’s on the calendar, and that is breaking my heart these days. But I am grateful for the opportunity to be her mom. And I will try to not be the wet blanket. I will try to look forward to the days that are to come, the days without X’s, because who knows what blessings they might bring.

If you’re a personal friend of mine, I apologize in advance for the ugly cries you’re about to experience over the next few months. And if you’re still in the stage where you are taking your kids on bike rides around the bayou, please hang on to the moments. If your kids still see shapes and patterns in the clouds, take a moment to enjoy the shapes and patterns, too. Before too long, those days will have X’s on them and you’ll be ugly-crying in your car and only seeing the clouds for the storms they bring.

Both Sides, Now
By Joni Mitchell

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ‘em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

Oh, but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

It’s life’s illusions that I recall
I really don’t know life
I really don’t know life at all

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