Would You Want to Know The Last?
I remember talking to a client once who had made the decision long ago not to have children. The conversation came about because my oldest was leaving for college and I was a complete wreck about it. She said, "That's one of the big reasons I didn't want to have kids - I don't think I could handle that heartbreak."
While I do think that the joys of parenting far outweigh those heart-wrenching moments, at that time I could see what she meant and I thought it was interesting that she had taken that into consideration when making the decision whether or not to have kids. What would it be like to go through life not feeling the sucker punch of the kids moving through their various stages of independence over and over again?
I was never the parent who got emotional at kindergarten graduation. (I mean, really. What IS that??) When the kids were little, any steps toward independence I felt were a good thing. But now that they're older and "independence" = "leaving"...things are a little harder for me.
What makes these moments worse is the anticipation. The summer before my daughter left for college, I had to stop myself from locking her in the house so that I could absorb as much time with her as I could. I joked that I was going to start keeping her hair and toenails in a jar. (Gross, I know, but that's how we roll in this house.) Knowing "the last" was coming was almost unbearable.
The thing is that we don't always know when "the last" is going to happen and I thank God for that. If we always knew, I wouldn't be able to function.
I remember my youngest saying as a joke, "Do you realize that there was a last time that you picked us up when we were little?"
I looked at her completely shocked. "Why would you say that?"
She quickly backtracked. "I mean, you could pick me up now if you wanted to."
But it was too late. The thought was there. The sadness that I hadn't even noticed there was such a moment. (I still feel incredibly sad when that thought comes to mind.) And then the relief that I didn't know ahead of time that there would be a "last time" I would pick them up.
At the beginning of this holiday break, my oldest, who is graduating from college in May, said that she didn't want to look for a job over winter break for two reasons:
It was too short to get hired anywhere.
This was her last break before going into the real world and she wanted to spend the time with me.
I realized then that we were coming to yet another "last" - and I've been fighting the anxiety ever since. She will likely go away with friends over Spring Break (as she should). Then graduation. Then the "real world." It's unlikely that we will ever have this amount of time together in the near future.
It kind of reminds me of when I lost my husband: I knew he was dead, but it took me a few months to realize he was really gone. I know my daughter has left the nest (college), but it's taken me this long to really digest that she won't be here anymore.
Now, if going through Covid taught me anything, it's not to look too far ahead and worry because everything can change on a dime. When she left for college, I felt broken for about two months. Had I known that just a few short months later she would be home again for almost another year, I wouldn't have been such a mess.
So, who knows? She could end up moving back or near home. I could end up moving near her. Lots of things could happen.
It's made me think about all the "lasts" we experience throughout life that we are blissfully unaware of - thank God - and some that we know are going to happen. Again, if my daughter hadn't said that about the last time I picked them up, I don't think I would have even realized that. I, of course, am aware of the last choir concert or game I'll ever watch them participate in, but there are little things that I don't know about ahead of time.
I didn't know many of the "lasts" that were happening before my husband died - and that's good and bad. We said "I love you" as he left for work that morning, but had I known that would be "the last" I know I would have said much more.
I didn't know that the last time I went to the house I grew up in would be "the last" because my parents would move before I went back.
Knowing "the last" before it happens does two things for me:
Causes great anxiety.
Makes me appreciate the time before "the last" happens even more.
I know that many people out there will think that we should always spend our time thinking "the last" can happen at any moment, but I don't think that's a realistic way to live. And, frankly, if I did live like that all the time you'd be visiting me in the looney bin.
At this moment, as I work through this "last", what I have to remind myself is that I've had "lasts" before and what each of those brings is a "first" - whether it's good or bad. There will be a "first" when I visit my grown daughter in her own home. There were many "firsts" when I started doing things independently after my husband passed. There was a "first" when I visited my parents in their new home after they had moved and enjoyed where they were living.
The "lasts" will come, whether we recognize them or not. Things must end for new things to begin.