It's not always easy being an older-than-average parent.

Sometimes I wonder how life would have been different if I had had my children at 27 rather than 37. Would I have had more energy for 2 a.m. feedings or 6-year-old "High School Musical" birthday parties?

While many of my friends and relatives were having their children in the early 1990s, I was busy line dancing to "Achy Breaky Heart" and trying to figure out why those boys from Kris Kross wore their clothes backward.

But despite my questionable choices, I am now reaping the rewards of my late parenting, watching and learning as my friends' children graduate from high school.

While it will be 10 years before my oldest child graduates from high school, I've been tempted to take my old reporter's notebook to all of the open houses I've attended. Taco bar? Check. Chocolate fountain? Check. Some kind of sherbety/lemonade-y punch? Check.

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I'm learning that it might not be acceptable to just open a bag of chips on a card table in the garage.

It also might not be acceptable to just slap a couple of pictures of the graduate on the garage wall. Most of the time, I'm seeing elaborate posterboards with 18 years worth of pictures set up next to awards, ribbons and sometimes even a TV playing a continual loop of home movies.

This brings me to the most important lesson I learned through graduation open houses: Cherish your children before they grow up because it's going to happen sooner than you think.

It started while I was perusing the picture boards of my niece's graduation open house last month, looking at the nice pictures of her growing-up years.

Then - BAM! - like a kick in the gut, I see a picture of my niece and nephew from an afternoon in 1998. The three of us had made a Little Mermaid cake together. They're standing behind the cake with flour-covered shirts and proud smiles. How was this happening? She can't be this old. I don't look that different. She can't be that different. Wasn't she 6 years old just yesterday?

Don't cry.

Don't cry.

Don't cry.

An emotional breakdown at the posterboard, and I'm only the aunt.

I know it's worse for the parents. At the next open house, the graduate's father told me he was having a hard time watching the home movies of his daughter's childhood. He said, "I don't see the good times. I'm just noticing the missed opportunities."

At the next open house, another dad sees me with my kids. He tells me, "Just love up those little ones. It all goes so fast." Here I go again.

Don't cry.

Don't cry.

Don't cry.

Beyond what to serve or how to decorate a graduation party, appreciating the moments with your children is the toughest and most important lesson.

I am vowing (like the parents who came before me probably did) to make the most of my daughters' growing-up years.

I'll try to savor the moments and not get too wrapped up in parental frustrations like dirty bedrooms and "she started it" bickering. I know that 10 years from now, as I put together my posterboards and sherbet punch, I don't want to feel tremendous regret for parenting I didn't do.

In the meantime, my nephew graduates from high school in two years. I think I might have to throw myself into the chocolate fountain.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is a personality for WDAY AM 970.