I can remember being at a bar in my twenties, dancing and singing when the lights flickered, and the bartender yelled out, “The last call.” I glanced at my watch and saw in amazement that it was 12:30 in the morning. It seemed like only a few minutes had passed since I stepped into the bar with my friends and yet here it was, closing time. I didn’t appreciate back then the thoughtfulness of a “Last call.” I was too annoyed with having to end a fun evening. But now, as my son’s high school graduation looms ahead, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunities provided by the last call. A chance to pause, have one last drink, and take in the scenery.
A year ago, I would have said it was ridiculous to be emotional over my son’s last day of this and his last day of that. It is only high school, I told myself. Tough as nails was I, that is, right up until his girlfriend mentioned that he would have his last Sleep in Thursday. At that remark, my eyes filled up with tears. In an instant, the list of last started to pile up in rapid succession; those that were coming up, marked on my calendar in ink, and those that had passed, standing front and center in my mind, tugging at my heartstrings.
The thing about the last times is that most often, you don’t get a forewarning. The last time my son crawled, the last time I read to him at night, the last baseball game, the last soccer game, the list goes on and on. It is only when the next day passes, and the thing you loved and held dear is no more and you mourn its passing. When my son was in kindergarten, he would burst out of the side door of the school at dismissal and shotgun his way in my arms. He wrapped his arms around my neck and told me that he missed me; I am not sure which one of us hugged the other the hardest, but just between us, I know that I missed him more. When I volunteered in his classroom or brought him McDonald’s for lunch, he would shift his body onto my lap in one fluid motion still tracing his letters on the paper or snagging a handful of french fries from the carton. There we would sit, in full view of his friends, his bony butt digging into my thighs because he couldn’t sit still. I would sniff his hair, which smelled vaguely like shampoo but mostly like sweat and mulch from the playground at recess, and I would think to myself, “He smells like a five-year-old” and I loved it. I can’t tell you the exact day that my son stopped scooting over to my lap or running to greet me after school. I can only tell you that it stopped. Without any warning. No last call.
The Yin and Yang of change, a last vs. a first. When my son crawled for the last time, it meant the end of his baby stage. He chose not to crawl because he had learned to walk. That is what he should have done; a pattern that would play itself out over the next 18 years. A parents job is to raise our children to be independent, but darn it if the process doesn’t sting a little. So here I sit on the morning of the last week of high school for seniors. After one weekend spent celebrating the graduates, I am preparing emotionally for another weekend of congratulations and the final Commencement ceremony. I will do my best to plaster on a smile because, in truth, I am happy for my son and very excited for his future. A list of first awaits him that is as endless my love for him. What he won’t know, is that I will also be grieving for the season we are leaving behind. Raising my son from a baby to a man has been one of the greatest joys of my life. I will miss this, that is the Yin, but I will love what is to come, that is the Yang.
I must scoot. I heard the barman yell, “Last call” and I don’t want to miss a single second.