I blinked.

“I am not prepared for this.” Words from a recent Facebook post that I feel hard. Our babies grow and fly and we are not prepared for the feelings that arise. It seems like we should be. After all, they tried to tell us: wisdom couched in terms of “savor these moments” and “don’t blink.” I don’t know if I didn’t believe them, or if it just didn’t sink in, or if I thought I’d be prepared. I was not.

I heard, but didn’t listen.

I would nod along to their wise words, sometimes engulfed in guilt that I wasn’t savoring enough, sometimes so exhausted that I just needed someone to hold the baby for 5 minutes, sometimes so wrapped up in unconditional love that I couldn’t imagine ever doing anything BUT savoring the small moments.

I was not prepared for this.

I thought I caught glimpses of what this might feel like: when he went to kindergarten, when she went to her first dance, and when the high school years began. I thought I knew, but I was wrong. In the moments of growing up, they were still ours. We knew they would always be around. Until the always becomes what you miss.

I watched, but didn’t see.

I saw other mamas whose babies had flown struggle with their own identity, I heard their pain and joy, that delicate mix that we call bittersweet as they said goodbye to their children’s childhoods and embraced them as adults, as the always turned to intervals, and a different type of parenting began. Poignant moments that I didn’t fully understand. I couldn’t fully understand.

We nodded sympathetically, and exchanged knowing looks in the rear view mirror as our friend walked alone through saying goodbye to her son’s childhood. Her tears fell and we offered platitudes. I knew how she felt, of course I did. She shook her head, knowing that I could not.

We knew, but didn’t know.

I was not prepared for this.

From where I now stand, I know what it is to let childhood go, to lean into that sweet pain mixed with joy. As a wise woman once said, it’s not a tragedy, but it’s not nothing, either*. I’ve walked with two children across the bridge from child to adult. Each walk has been different, each joy exquisite, each pain unique.

I should know how to do this, but I don’t.

Here, on the precipice of another high school graduation, of all those precious last things, of the joy mixed with sorrow of putting childish things away. I am not prepared for this.

This is the last of the last. I should know how to walk this road, but I don’t. I thought I would know. I’ve been here before. I came prepared, armed with tears and smiles and camera at the ready. She walks toward her future, her smile bright, and I cannot help but smile back, even as I am washed with tears and memories. Because I blinked and here we are.

This time, I am not alone. My friends have walked the road in my footsteps, they have shed the same tears. We smile and celebrate, we cry and grieve. We each carry our own delicate balance of bitter and sweet, but this time we walk arm in arm with others who know it as well.

*Beverly Beckham https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/regionals/south/2015/08/13/was-sun-and-kids-were-planets/rIZt6ftorNQpeHcv1og3fL/story.html

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