Voices

Front Porch: Watching a child finish high school offers plenty to savor

This year is my first child’s last year of high school, with graduation three short weeks away. Though I should have known better, no one warned me how many lasts we’d celebrate and how each one would make me misty-eyed and nostalgic. Last cross country meet. Last choir concert. Last school dance. Last standardized test.

Actually, the last test doesn’t jerk any tears. I share my daughter’s happy good-riddance attitude toward those tedious tools of academic assessment.

But in a spring filled with award night after award night honoring the academic and extracurricular achievements of my daughter and her peers, some of these lasts are bittersweet. They’re the culmination of years of growth and accomplishment, a finished project that started 18 years ago.

With each “last” of her high school career, my mind is filled with memories of her firsts, which happened yesterday, it seems.

When I was a new mom, I watched in wonder as Emily reached milestone after milestone. Everything was new and amazing. Things I took for granted became accomplishments worth recording in the baby book or reporting over the phone to her grandparents.

“She smiled on purpose,” I told them, a grin spread across my own face because whenever a baby smiles it’s a gift. She’d just woken from a nap and I’d playfully poked her nose and mouth while making car sounds. “Beep, beep. Honk, honk.”

Her eyes lit up and she flashed toothless gums with glee. For weeks we played that game while I clumsily tried to capture the smile on my camera. Then she moved on to more sophisticated humor, like animal sounds.

The first time she sampled food we gave her a piece of banana, which she savored and swallowed as though tasting an exotic delicacy.

The first time she crawled, her eyes were fixed on a prickly pine cone, out of reach from where she sat on a blanket in the backyard. With determination she rocked back and forth then inched forward until she could grab it with both hands.

Often at the end of a call to share these simple successes, my father-in-law would admonish me to enjoy every moment because it passes quickly. I took those words to heart. Though I stopped writing in the baby book, I beamed with pride over many more firsts as she grew and learned and followed her passions.

Her first piano recital. Her first solo in church. Her first math competition. Her first trip away from home without me.

Like she worked to crawl to that pine cone, over the past 18 years, time after time Emily has worked hard to experience what she wants in life. She’s come so far. She’s overcome so much.

This nostalgia feels familiar. I went through it, though differently, two years ago when Emily prepared to study abroad in Germany for her junior year of high school.

For her, it was an adventure and experience of a lifetime. For me, though I still beamed with pride, the separation of ocean and land, time zones and culture was more difficult than anything I could have imagined.

That colors my nostalgia today. Having her home to finish high school here was like that first baby smile, a gift. My father-in-law’s words often echoed in my head. Enjoy every moment. It passes quickly.

I’d add that though these moments may make me nostalgic, I won’t hold so tight to them that I can’t enjoy the next season of my daughter’s life. Springtime for a senior is filled with lasts. But each one is also an appetizer to the main course yet to come.

Many more firsts are waiting like pine cones.

Contact Jill Barville at jbarville@msn.com.


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