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Last Year at High School: Mournful Parents and Joyful Teens

My friend Maggie said it the best when our oldest children were entering their second semester of senior year, their last year of high school. “It is the year of lasts.”

That got me.

Weepy in January, sad in February, holding tight in March (our last spring break together). Then April, May, and June brought the realization that a wonderful period in our family life was ending and an equally exciting new chapter was on the horizon.

Conflicting Emotions During the Last Year of High School

My oldest who is laid back and easy going seemed to relish the final days of his last year of high school and the excitement of moving on to college. I was thrilled for him.

But I also had that sinking feeling creeping into my bones: I wanted him to leave happy and ready to take the world by storm, but I was conflicted.

Did he have to be THAT happy when I was so sad?

I knew my other friends with seniors were feeling that same pull. The day of graduation, I went with my two soul sisters, our husbands, and families as we waited for our sons’ names to be called. They walked across the stage while we dried our tears and grasped each other’s hands. It was a surreal moment for all of us.

Holding On Tight

A few years later and I am back in the year of lasts. I don’t I like it here. When my second teenager completed his first semester as a senior, I laid out the ground rules for the final months of his last year of high school.

“This is how it’s gonna go,” I explained. “I am going to begin holding on very tight; I’ll cry at everything. I will hug you and kiss you and smell your sweet head whenever I want. I am going to drown you in love so fierce, you will start to pull away with a vengeance, trying to break from that bond that I have spent the last 18 years cultivating like it was my own victory garden.”

My son looked at me, rolled his eyes, grabbed the car keys, and ran out the door.

He is enjoying one of greatest times in his life—those last few carefree months of senior year. Accepted into a wonderful college, thrilled to be able to spend every day with friends and teachers he loves, he is also mentally preparing himself for what lies ahead.

Doing this dance of letting go is hard for me.  How will I manage a home with one child? If this last week is a sign, I will not handle this well.

For the second night this week, my daughter and I ate dinner alone standing at the island in my kitchen. I defrosted some food from the freezer and we ate standing up. I commented that next year, this was probably how it was going to look. She looked up dumbfounded and then her eyes got really wide. I should have kept my depressing comments to myself. Dinner was over, appetite gone.

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I have moments of optimism. And I feel better prepared to help with the transitions of freshman year. I know how to handle those stressed out, late night phone calls. And I know what items to pack from home—light bulbs and staples, extra boxer shorts, and a toolbox. I will send cookies in bubble wrap so that UPS does not reduce them to crumbled chunks and I will, once again, scour that dorm room with a combination of Lysol, Windex, and Clorox wipes. But this is the easy stuff.

Letting him go will be a different story.

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