From diapers to diplomas

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On May 17th, exactly 33 years after I graduated high school, my baby girl turned her graduation tassel, too. Her service dog Mac, dressed in a matching cap and gown, trotted along beside her as she crossed the stage to receive her diploma. They both graduated with honors, and Mac received the “seal of biliteracy” on his diploma because he is fluent in understanding both dogs and humans.

So, it’s official, my friends. The three kids I’ve written about for more than 20 years are now high school graduates. And that means Tom and I will have three kids in college by this fall. (Send prayers and lottery tickets.)

I didn’t cry when Kate’s older brothers graduated high school. When it happened in 2020 to our oldest son, Adam, the circumstances were bizarre instead of bittersweet. The formal graduation ceremony was canceled because of Covid, so we set up an open-air event in our front yard. Our middle son learned to play Pomp & Circumstance on his tuba, and I made Adam put on the cap and gown we’d already paid for before the pandemic hit.

While the tuba played, Adam walked across the cul-de-sac, where his father handed him a rolled-up sheet of blank paper while I snapped dozens of pictures with my iPhone. (Virus or no virus, I was getting those pictures.) Those in attendance included two younger siblings, two grandparents, two parents, and one Corgi, who trailed behind the graduate to a smattering of applause.

Two years later, when it was our middle son Jack’s turn, we were so thrilled for a normal school year and a traditional graduation that we didn’t have time for tears. When he moved all the way to Michigan for college three months later, I cried my head off. But on the long drive back home, I took comfort in knowing we’d have Kate at home for two more years.

Then I blinked – once, maybe twice. And suddenly there we were, standing in a parking lot helping her and an 80-pound Goldendoodle get zipped up in their graduation gowns. They disappeared into a royal blue sea of classmates, and Tom and I joined the throngs of other parents lining up to get seats.

This third time around, when Pomp & Circumstance played over the arena’s speakers, the full emotional force of three different high school graduations washed over me. It’s so strange to feel these strong, conflicting emotions at the same time. I’m elated to ride this wave of joy and pride for our kids’ growth and accomplishments, yet I feel the rip current of a new reality as it pulls them away from home.

This milestone is natural and good and everything we wished for, but it still leaves me standing on the shore feeling gut-punched by how much I’ll miss this part of our life.

The good news is that all three kids are home for the summer, working part-time jobs and raiding the fridge and pantry like old times. In the fall, they’ll all move out for college. Thankfully, Kate and her dog are moving to a university only 30 minutes away. I can already picture myself driving to campus for quick visits, hoping it’ll take the edge off the withdrawal symptoms of an empty nest.

And who knows? Maybe Tom and I will find new adventures while the grown-up kids are out enjoying their own. We’ll figure it out as we go along, like millions of parents before us. We’re so grateful for these graduates and stunned by how quickly they’ve gone from diapers to diplomas.

To all our fellow parents in the day-to-day trenches of raising good humans, enjoy the ride. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s happy, but it’s always so very worth it.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon.

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