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I'm not crying, you're crying — and all that senior year drama of getting ready to let go

Paula and daughter
InForum Managing Digital Editor Paula Quam talks about preparing for "the beginning of the end" of an era, as her daughter Parker is about to start her senior year in high school. (submitted)

It all started with one of those stupid, senseless, sibling fights that grind on a parent. We were on a little road trip vacation with our camper when the fight broke out between what seemed like all four of our kids.

"Why are you guys all fighting? Don't you know our time together like this is limited?" I yelled, with some strange emotion that seemed to come out of nowhere. "Parker is graduating and moving out in a little over a year, and life for us will never be the same," I continued, as the ugly cry began to peel over my face and my voice quivered.

I didn't know what was happening or where that was coming from (because seriously, with four kids, bickering is almost like background noise to me now, so it wasn't that), but I'm pretty sure the unexpected emotion weirded them out, too, because they got uncharacteristically quiet.

I realized then, my mourning for our original family unit had begun . . . just like I remember it beginning during my older brother's senior year 28 years earlier. I remember things shifting back then; it was the end of an era because we'd never all be living under one roof again. Too many moments would feel like we were missing somebody because he didn't happen to be there for everything. And now, I was preparing myself for our first child to begin her senior year. It would be the beginning of all the "lasts". And soon after would come my son, then my other two daughters . . . my gosh, who has got the emotional energy for all that?

I typically feel much more sentimental than I act, so my little outburst made me realize that I was going to have to put my big-girl pants on and switch perspectives if I was going to get through four senior years and four moments of our kids leaving home. I don't want to be the blubbering mom who steals the joy and excitement that this transition can actually be full of — that would totally cement my husband's status of being "the fun one" — so I've come up with a new way of thinking that I hope can serve as a little armor in the fight against over-dramatic shows of sentiment and sorrow.

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First of all, drama queen, she's not going halfway across the world (like I did when I was a little older than her age and joining the Air Force, knowing I'd be stationed in Europe the whole time . . . sorry, Mom); she's just going to college. I don't know where, but even if she goes somewhere far away, I know it'll be fine. You know how? Because first of all, I love to travel and am always looking for an excuse, but also because we raised a human being who is good and kind and funny. The reason this is critical in my emotional survival plan is because she's the sort of person I actually like to hang around, and despite the fact that she believes her sense of humor is slightly superior to mine, I think she, for the most part, likes hanging around me, too. It had hit me — I was going to gain an awesome "friend" as she got older. I had made sure (although totally unplanned but now completely convenient) that she was just enough like me to make for a good, adult buddy. Yes! The world was not ending.

With this in mind, I started breaking it down and doing the math. My other three kids are in the same boat. They're all on their way to becoming good, cool humans. This started getting me excited because it means that while, yeah, things are changing, they might just be changing to my benefit. I believe, if I play this thing right, we will likely have a future full of good times with them. Maybe they'll be even better times than the ones we had raising them because there won't be as much pressure to "raise them right". That job will, for the most part, be coming to an end as they graduate, and I can, more or less, sit back and enjoy my work. (I don't know why, but I feel like I can hear the faint sound of parents of young adults everywhere snickering at me, whispering something like, "It's never over". . .)

But really, this is good. I'm well on my way to being able to enjoy our creations — those little people we've worked so hard to try to mold. All we have to do now is stay steady, keep our eyes on the ball and bring it all home. We're too far in the game to screw them up now! Right?

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