Sometimes, the moments strike when you least expect them. Right when you're sitting there, in the third row of the high school auditorium chatting with another mom while both your daughters, now seniors, sit onstage and wait to be inducted into some honor society that will look good on their college resumes.
You're sitting and chatting about the girls -- maybe about how they keep turning their heads to avoid having their pictures taken by you -- when they suddenly stand and start filing towards the principal in front, one-by-one, to receive their certificates.
It's at that moment you start to hear many of the names of the kids your daughter has been in school with since kindergarten. The kid whom you helped read a story with when you went in to celebrate Dr. Seuss Day. The girls who were in your Girl Scout troop for years. The boy who spilled mustard all over your daughter's shirt in 6th grade.
But they're not little kids anymore. They are young men in ties and legit women wearing boots you wouldn't mind owning yourself.
And all of a sudden, when you try to take a picture of your young neighbor shaking hands with the principal, the same little girl you moved across the street from a dozen years ago whom you described to people as Punky Brewster and who has become a staple in your house for the last decade, your vision blurs as the tears start to fill your eyes and you get that burning feeling at the back of your throat.
And you're not even getting your period.
You don't even try to take a picture when it's your own daughter's turn to walk to the front of the stage and receive her certificate. You figure you'll get her to send the shot you can see her father taking from the row ahead of you. You just want to take it in, the beginning of the end. Over the next few months, there will be a lot of these ceremonies. Your daughter and her fellow hard-working students will be honored at various inductions into this society or that as they round the bases towards June.
They're all heading down that same path that millions -- or maybe zillions -- of high school seniors have walked in the past and with, for most, the same inevitable end. They will graduate and a month or two after that, will take their proverbial shows on the road to college.
And I know I've been down this road myself a time or two, but for some reason, it's really hurting a little bit more this time around. When the first one left and then the second, it was like, Well, there's plenty more where that came from. But now that well of children is starting to run a little dry. Next year it'll be just me and a 12-year-old boy rattling around our house and the vibe will be whole lot different.
Punky's mom across the street happens to be not only one of my goodest gal pals, but stuck in the same ever-shrinking boat. When Punky ships off to school in August, my pal will be left at home with her hubby and 15-year-old son to keep her company.
She texted me the other day while Punky was busy practicing at their piano after leaving a trail of sifted flour all over the kitchen from an afternoon of baking macaroons. "Next year the only thing I will hear are farts," she wrote.
They do this, kids. They start out making you weak at the knees with the love you feel for them -- their tiny little fingers and sweet-smelling heads -- and then push you to the brink of homicide after a few short years of incessantly asking, "Why?" and "Why not?" By the time they are teenagers, you really start to wish that they would just go away. And then, just as suddenly as they entered your world -- they start to make their exit.
And you're like, Wait. What?
But of course they come back, bringing bags of laundry and a new found disdain for midnight curfews, but it's never the same. It all starts to seem a lot more temporary.
I stood this afternoon under a brilliant blue October sky to watch the middle school cross-country team compete and a friend, who also has an 11-year-old boy, said they had just visited the playground where she used to push her son in his stroller every day as a baby. "Because all he did was cry," she said.
"Those days seemed so long," she added, and it's true. All those days of sitting bundled up at the freezing playground or rescuing a toddler from a McDonald's bacteria-ridden ball pit and just waiting for the hours to tick by until bedtime seem like a lifetime ago. But also like it was yesterday.
I look forward to the future. I can't wait for my children to go and start lives and families of their own. And of course, I am excited to see what comes my way as well.
But I loved being a mom. And not that I'm not going to be the mom anymore, but it's just changing. I mean, sometimes the kids call me "Amy" when they're trying to make a point and some are old enough to get staples in the head and a CAT scan without my consent.
And I think if I could have any super power, flying and invisibility might come in handy every now and again, but what I'd really like to be able to do is to go back in time. I'd like to go back and spend a late afternoon, between naps and making chicken nuggets, sitting on a park bench and watching my little ones go up and down the slide for hours and then beg me to push them on the swing. And, unlike before -- when I'd resist as long as I could and tell them they needed to learn how to swing on the swing themselves -- I'd get up and go over and give them a great big push.