And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

The switch into second semester brought a sigh with it in my house. We haven’t had much of second semester yet, because of a rash of snow days – four in the last two weeks – and that’s been okay. It gives us a chance to brace ourselves because we’re heading into the season of last-times.

This is Olivia’s last semester in high school. And this is my last semester of having a child in the Waukesha school system.

I graduated from Waukesha North High School in 1978. I was only in the school system for three semesters, moving here during the second semester of my junior year. But I consider Waukesha North my school home. My oldest boy, Christopher, entered kindergarten in 1989. And in June of 2019, my youngest child, Olivia, will graduate. While Olivia attended her freshman and sophomore years at Waukesha South, all four of my kids graduated or will graduate from North.

This is the season of the last time I will have to fill her school lunch account. Her last IEP. Her last orchestra concert at the high school level. The last time I have to sign class syllabi. The last, the last, the last.

It’s odd. It’s bittersweet. It’s exhilarating.

Olivia applied to four colleges and she was accepted at all of them. We haven’t announced which one she’s going to yet, because we’re still waiting for one more package. But we’ve received one really outstanding offer, and we think that’s where she will be going. I’ve spent a lot of time, picturing her walking on those school grounds, standing by the bell tower, passing historical buildings where so many young women have gone before her. Talking, listening, learning. Growing and becoming. And it makes me tear up every time.

When Olivia was born, my three older kids, Christopher, Andy and Katie, were 16, 14, and 13 years old, respectively. One of the benefits of having a child when I was forty years old, over a decade after my last child, is that as those older kids get older, I was able to turn to Olivia and say, “Well, I’m still the parent of a pre-schooler – a kindergartener – a sixth grader – a high school kid.” Now, when I turn, I look directly into her eyes.

It’s hard.

But…during these snow days, there was one morning where she got up well past noon. When she finally stumbled into the kitchen, she was wearing…one-piece furry hooded Eeyore pajamas. The slick, sophisticated young woman in black leggings, black army boots, and a black leather jacket wasn’t there. Instead, there was my toddler, and I could see her again, in her pink fuzzy footie one-piece pajamas, looking sleepily at me, rubbing one eye with her fist.

There she was. And I was so happy to see her.

I realized as I wrote this that I see glimpses of my little ones in all four of my kids. My oldest, Christopher, is thirty-five, married, and is the father of my six-year old grandbaby, Maya Mae. But whenever he sees me and it’s time for him to go, he says, “Bye, Mommy,” and gives me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. He even rests his head on top of mine, and for that moment, he’s the little boy who wrapped himself around me whenever I had to leave him. Andy, at almost 33, still finds the time once a week to come over before Olivia gets home from school to set up an entire dramatic scene with her stuffed animals, complete with dialogue written on torn-page speech bubbles from their mouths. I see Andy at 14, when I was alone with him in the car and I apologized that my situation was such that I couldn’t afford to take him and his siblings on vacations to Disneyworld, like his father could. “Mom,” he told me then. “You’ve already given me the best gift. We have Olivia.” And Katie, who will soon be 32, who today texted me from an airport and said, “There is a child next to me, not more than 4 years old, and his name is Virgil. Virgil. Thought of you.” Virgil is one of the main characters in my novel, In Grace’s Time. And Katie is the child whose every sentence, practically, started with “Mommy! Mommy!” And she once called me her best friend.

And now, Olivia. In fleece one-piece fuzzy Eeyore pajamas. Every morning, when she gets up and comes looking for me, she sings out, “Mama!”

I raised my kids to embrace the world. Instead of me.

But they find ways to do both.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.                               

My high school senior photo. 1978.

My favorite portrait of the “big kids”. From the left, Andy, 4 years old, Katie, 3 years old, Christopher, 6 years old.
Then came Olivia. This is the day after her birth. 10/18/2000.
Olivia now.
Katie now.
Andy now.
Christopher now, with his wife Amber and my grandbaby Maya Mae!

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