Why High School Graduation Is So Tough On Parents

I sat in my seat under a large tent at my son’s new high school for the welcome session and ice-cream social.

The incoming class had been taken to the gym while their parents were taking notes on everything from the dress code to how to load funds into the kids’ lunch accounts (never mind the assurances that this information would be on the school portal).

This wasn’t my first rodeo. I know all about school portals.

I can assure you that, despite my best efforts, I have never successfully downloaded anything, much less a forgotten at school assignment, from one of these portals.

I suddenly stopped my note taking and looked up as they were marching the boys back into the tent, all wearing a new “Class of ‘18” navy blue t-shirts. The headmaster spoke to the parents and said that in approximately one thousand-four-hundred and sixty-one days, we would be sitting under this same tent and these same boys would be marching in again, only this time it would be for their graduation.

It couldn’t have been more than a few weeks ago, a month or two at most.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve long ago stopped giving credence to my sense of time. When my son was six weeks old, I attended a police officer’s thirtieth birthday party. His mother got up and gave a toast, reading a poem that started something like, “You were one and lots of fun” and then went through the years until the child was five years old and said, “The bus picked you up with a tear and a frown, and brought you back in a cap and a gown.”

I remember tears welling up in my eyes and thinking, “It must seem like that because sometimes I feel like I was just in high school myself.”

I have a long standing fascination with time travel movies, as I love the thought of going back in time and being able to give your younger self some much needed advice.

There is, however, no amount of advice that will prepare you for the lightning fast time travel between the time your child arrives into this world, when, in between sleep deprived moments, you’re admiring their adorable little corn-niblet toes and smelling the clean, innocent scent of youth that is a baby’s head after a bath to the surreal experience of finding yourself on the same college campus tours that you took with your parents when you were a high school senior.

Do you remember that scene in the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where Ferris looks at the audience and says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it?”

If Mathew Broderick wasn’t playing a teenager himself in the movie, I’d swear he was talking about being a parent.

As a parent, you find yourself in the midst of a constant swirl of activities. There are hours of soccer practices and games, karate classes, fencing lessons, music lessons, moving up ceremonies, curriculum nights, field trips, birthday parties, homework, and play dates.

And, just so you don’t get too comfortable, there are the inevitable mishaps. One child swallows a penny in the middle of a Sunday School Christmas pageant (true story). Another son shoves a pea up his nose and can’t get it out (also true). Then there’s the April Fools prank that went awry when one child dives into bed and ends up with a bloody nose because his brother put a hardcover book in a pillow case (couldn’t make that up if I tried).

Add to that the ten years of your life you lost in worry when your son was lost for over an hour at the beach on a family vacation. Or the time the family didn’t make it to the circus because your child’s wrist that you thought was just sprained turned out to be badly broken.

Sure there are moments when you can feel the time shifting, as you realize that your boys are now watching Pokemon and are no longer interested in Thomas & Friends, but there’s no time to dwell on it because there’s a mountain of laundry to tackle, dinner to cook and math homework that makes you wish you had paid more attention in algebra class yourself.

You’d love to sit down and contemplate the passage of time but not now, because your son just told you that it’s Crazy Hat Day at soccer tomorrow, so you need to ransack the attic to find that funny umbrella hat that he won at Chuck E. Cheese’s years before that you thought you’d never, ever need again.

You’d relish having the time to just sit and reminisce but you finally got around to checking your e-mail and realize that you forgot to sign up for the teacher appreciation breakfast and all that is left is either something called the “warm breakfast entrée” or the dreaded fruit salad.

You’d prefer to sit with a cup of coffee and go through photo albums but you can’t because you’re pushing a grocery cart that looks like the Grinch’s sleigh after he’s stolen all the decorations and gifts from Whoville, even though you just ran in to “grab a few things.”

I have my own personal marker of how quickly time passes by in our back yard, and it is our swing set.

I remember when my oldest son was small and my husband assembled the bright red wooden structure. I could see the progress from my kitchen window as the bright yellow slide went up with a green tarp over the fort section that came complete with a plastic telescope and captain’s steering wheel.

I’m not sure when it happened but, one day, I looked out my kitchen window and the wooden swing set had turned from red to grey, the bright green tarp was faded and tattered, and God only knows what happened to that telescope.

I don’t have the heart to take it down just yet.

Before I blink and find myself sitting under that same tent again for my son’s graduation — that milestone is now only two hundred and forty-four days away — I am going to treasure the time I have left with all three of my baby birds still in the nest.

And, since there doesn’t appear to be a time traveling DeLorean that will whisk me back in time to counsel my younger self, I will take this time to share some of the principles that I learned during my journey through “mom-hood” so that you can use this fleeting, but oh so valuable time with your family, wisely.

1. Never judge the inside of your family against the outside of everyone else’s.

2. Hug and hold a child as often as possible. Someday you’ll pick them up and it will be the last time they ask you to do so.

3. Begin as you mean to continue — it’s much easier to relax a rule than to try to establish one after the horse has left the barn. For example, if you want your children to sit through an entire dinner without leaving the table or using electronic devices, start that behavior from the very beginning, even if it means you have to modify how long dinner lasts.

4. Don’t make idle threats. If you tell a child, “If you don’t stop misbehaving, we’re leaving,” and they continue to misbehave, you have to leave as promised or all future credibility is at risk.

5. Be present. It is more important to make memories than to record your life on video and miss the moment when it is actually happening.

6. Your children are watching you. Set the example for what you want them to become.

7. And, finally, if you have a good sized family of boys and men, life is a lot easier if you buy all of them the same type of socks.

I can’t stress this last one enough. You’ll thank me.