Olathe & Southwest Joco

When the ‘lasts’ start, mother knows everyone adapts

Susan Vollenweider’s son, Luke, walks off of a football field after his last high school game.
Susan Vollenweider’s son, Luke, walks off of a football field after his last high school game. Courtesy photo

It was four years ago this fall when a reality hit me: My kid would be graduating from high school in a few months.

Even so, that experience didn’t prepare me because two years later, it was fall when the reality hit me again: Another of my kids would be graduating from high school in a few months.

Of course, I knew in my head that if they were finishing school, it was going to happen. I knew that I had sent them off to class each day for almost 13 years in anticipation of graduation. I didn’t have any fear that poor grades would extend their stay (merci beaucoup, Mademoiselle Lee) and I knew that they were turning 18, the same age that I was when I had gone off to college.

I knew all of that in my head, but not in my heart.

That’s when the “lasts” started in earnest. The last homecoming, the last time my daughter would march with the band, the last time my son would suit up for a football game and the last Christmas concerts. Through their senior year I made mental or photographic memories of all the lasts up until the day I proudly gazed at their first day of college photos.

I thought that I had recognized all the lasts, but I didn’t.

Somewhere in there, maybe during the hectic senior year or the stressful summer of college prep chaos, I missed the last time that I was a mom as I had known it.

First came the realization that text-parenting was the most straightforward method of communication. It’s kind of a pain, I have yet to write a text of more than one word that doesn’t have a typo, but there must be something about writing and not looking directly into mom’s eyes that allows for some very serious conversations. With emojis. And very little punctuation. You adapt.

Next came their return home for winter, then summer breaks. It took a bit for all of us to get on a firm understanding that, even though they still had rules because they were living in our house, they filled their own schedules. They both had gotten out of the habit (far too quickly, if you ask me) of not telling anyone where they were, who they were with, and when they would be back. As parents we had to accept that; as kids they also had to accept that it’s considerate to tell your housemates -- who pay all of your bills, fill your refrigerator and cover your medical insurance -- when to expect you. Everyone adapts.

Then came more parental adjustments. They made big decisions against what we would have suggested and presented them to us as a fait accompli. One bought a car, insured it and drove it home with a “Look what I bought!”

The other dropped a particular medical provider and changed how they handle a chronic condition. Now, their dad and I don’t make their choices: they do. All we have to give to them is advice but only when asked. As a parent I realize that we gave them the tools over the last 20-plus years, and now they’re using them on their own. But adapting to that is a weird emotional combination of punch in the gut and warm hug of pride.

It will be about this time, three years from this fall, that my head and my heart will catch up and I’ll realize that our youngest child will be graduating from high school. All of the lasts will start again; all of the last-lasts will begin.

The only thing I know is that I will not be prepared for everything that happens next and I can only hope that he is.

We will all adapt.

Susan is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history podcasts that she co-hosts or to read more of her work visit thehistorychicks.com or susanvollenweider.com.