Our daughter graduated high school this year, and last August before school even started, with unmasked elation she began populating the family calendar with upcoming key dates and important events scheduled for her senior year.
With each entry she’d joyfully proclaim, “It’ll be my last one!”
I barely batted an eye at the impending adverse ramifications of her comments. I merely noted her excitement and about-darn-time attitude over her upcoming year of lasts.
And I loved that for her.
She was a kid who at four years old wouldn’t get out of the car for her first gymnastics lesson when we arrived at the gym. That kid who hung out with the teacher on playground duty most recesses. She lived her best life between the pages of a book. She was a kid who struggled to find her dependable people and an enjoyable path towards her bright future.
Right up until she didn’t anymore.
Watching her inch closer to the fullest expression of her true self over the years is both excruciating and exhilarating. Agonizing in the sometimes slow, back-tracking pace but exciting in each new unfurling of the beautiful spirit she is. To watch her grow from a little girl who just couldn’t into a young woman who definitely can was a miraculous event to bear witness to.
This girl once regularly eschewed people, gatherings, and events because of how less-than she felt in each realm. Now she is a young woman who shows up at anything and everything that blips on her radar screen. This is mostly because she finally understands she belongs precisely where she decides, but also because of the alluring quality of the “lasts” of it all.
As her parents, we’ve had many lasts this year as well. We watched her compete in her last sporting event. We communicated with her teachers for the last time. That last empty space in the frame on the wall which we saved for her school photo from each year got filled. We bought her last prom dress, called in her last absence, signed her last permission slip, and monitored her last semester of grades.
In all our lasts, I still didn’t crack.
My trembly emotions remained secure in their vault. Until we neared the last of the last things. Late in the school year, we attended her last annual banquet for FFA; a club with deep history and purpose that’s lovingly worked to shape her into the full-of-endless potential person she is. This event seemed bigger in scope than any of the lasts had so far, and I immediately felt the integrity of my emotional safe crumbling. Our daughter served as a secretary her senior year, and each officer has several speaking roles during the annual banquet.
As the program commenced, each senior leader began with, “For the last time…”
When our daughter spoke those words, my vault broke and the unstoppable tears freely flowed. I didn’t recover for the rest of the night. Those words wrecked me, for I finally felt the stinging regret over all the lasts we’d experienced all year and never again.
The oppressive lament over the never-again moments loomed so large, I thought I’d be troubled by it for quite some time.
And I may have been, had I not remembered all the lovely firsts that also happened this year, as well as for those still to come.
For the first time, we sent out graduation announcements for our daughter and planned a party to celebrate her academic accomplishment. She enrolled in her first college and found her first roommate. She got her first tattoo and became eligible to vote for the first time.
She’ll soon live away from home for the first time. We’ll get our first dose of missing her like crazy for too long. And the relief of a sweet reunion over her first holiday break. She’ll make her first friends as an adult and meet her first professors. She’ll feel a new, intoxicating sense of freedom that will embolden her to unfurl even further into who she is and what she will become.
She’ll soon do many other things for the first time that will surprise us, enlighten us, mystify us, bring us joy and make us proud.
Mercifully, the fun firsts coming down the pike are so numerous and hold such delicious anticipation, it’s impossible to stay focused on the lasts.
After all, a last only means a new first is just around the bend.