The “Last Time” Moments of Parenthood
There are many precious "last time" moments and milestones with our kids that all parents celebrate with photos and fanfare.
There are also the "last time moments" we quietly honor with a simple, searing acknowledgement of its sacredness.
And then there are the moments that slip by totally unnoticed.
They're the mundane little things that are so routine they don’t land on our nostalgia radar until we suddenly notice one day that they’re over.
Did I know when it was the “official” last time that I carried my each of my children on my hip?
Because there WAS a very last time, and although hip-carrying instances dwindle down slowly over the years to the occasional sick or injured-kid-moment, there still was a single last time. My teenage son is now 6’1” and my go-to guy for carrying all things heavy. There's no hip-carrying happening in our house anymore.
If I had thought about that while double-hipping two kids into the grocery store I might have been more patient.
But I didn’t pay attention.
When was the official last time I ever pushed them in a stroller?
Or read them a book?
Or cut up their meat?
Or forgot to be the tooth fairy (again?)
I’m not sure if I would have cheered or cried knowing when these ordinary parenting tasks were officially commanding their final performance, but I do know that the realization of not being present like I could’ve in my kids’ lives gives me a parenthood gut-check of guilt that haunts me too often.
Last summer before my daughter started college, she started giving me “last time” countdowns to just about everything.
Not that I needed more nostalgic reminders at that point because I’d already gut-checked myself into a fetal position after watching her preschool graduation video the night after she graduated from high school.
I was frantic, wondering about the moments I’d missed in the last 18 years, and how it was suddenly over so fast.
“Hey Mom, can you make me a grilled cheese and bring it to me in my room? It might be the LAST TIME before I leave for college.…” (LIE. It was only June and she used that line at least 7 more times.)
“Can we go back-to-school clothes shopping for the LAST TIME before I leave the nest?” (LIE. She comes home during college breaks and she still hits me up for shopping.)
As I’m writing this, it’s now a year later, and she’s getting ready to go back to college in a few weeks. She doesn’t tease me with the “last time” reminders anymore, because we’ve transitioned to a new chapter realizing that there’s always an option for another last time.
She’s grown up, but she hasn’t stopped being my daughter, and I haven’t stopped being her mother.
And for now she leaves the nest and comes home again in a steady rhythm. It’s become a comfortable new season of parenting routine.
Truth? I'm loving this new season of parenting because it's actually much more pleasant than some of her teenage years!
And when she's home I still make her grilled cheese, take her shopping, and marvel at the amazing growth I’ve seen in her even over the last year. It’s not over, it’s just different—and I’m better at savoring it now.
I've learned the trick to this is battling guilt and grief with gratefulness.
What I know for sure is that looking back and feeling guilty or sad robs me of being present for the moment I’m in now. But looking back through the lens of gratitude makes the present even sweeter.
And I’m no longer in a fetal position, which is healthy for everyone.
Can anyone else (whether your kiddo is going off to kindergarten or college) relate?
I wonder sometimes…
Is this the last time The Boy will pick me dandelions?
Is this the last time he’ll hold my hand in public? Or if his shirt matches his shorts?
Is this the last night The Girl will ask to be tucked in?
Is this the last time she’ll want me to blow dry her hair? Or tell me about a book she’s reading?
Then I think…
Maybe it is. But I cannot mourn what may or may not be, but soak in the moment and file away the memory.
And I pray…
Please let this be the last day I have to tell them to wear deodorant.
Please let them turn off the lights.
Please make this be the last time I have to watch this same episode we’ve seen twenty times.
And I remember that this parenting thing is always an adventure! And I should call my mama about now.
I just want to know when I became “Dad” and not “Daddy.”
I know it happened sometime after “that boy” came into her life. I just don’t know exactly when.
2:37 PM on Good Friday 1998, that was the first time I knew what it meant to be “Daddy.” Terror. Pride. Unconditional Love. Protective. Driven. Tired. REALLY tired. And a multitude of other feelings that would take me through emotions (that I didn’t have, or at least didn’t deal with) prior to the birth of my daughter.
For 16 years, I was “Daddy.” No matter what kind of day I had, no matter what kind of stress I was under, hearing “Daddy’s home!” or “Daddy, can you fix this” was my moment to be Superman. “Daddy” was the most important title I had ever dreamed of. And then, it stopped. And with it, my view of my baby girl became one of her as a young lady. I just wasn’t ready.
Yes, I knew it was going to happen. All the signs were there. I couldn’t figure out why those guys were staring at me when we were at the hardware store-I finally realized it was her, not me. She got her permit to learn to drive, and did so very well I was proud as a peacock-and her feet reached the pedals. Her homework problems looked like those I struggled with in college-but she handled them with ease.
And then along came “that boy.” Don’t get me wrong, he’s as nice of a boy as there is (too nice, reminds me of me growing up frankly-“Mr. Huss” was exactly how I acted as a teenage boy.). He’s respectful of my wife and me, and most importantly of my daughter. He’s smart, and respects her boundaries (yes, I explained they would never find the body if he didn’t, but I know her character and values are the biggest reason).
Somewhere after he arrived, I changed from “Daddy” to “Dad.” Was it all him? No, he was just the boost to her self esteem that helped her move on to the next stage in her life. Pre-College. She’s not a junior in high school, in her mind she’s pre-college. At least she’s giving me some warning that it’s coming this time I guess.
Realizing she is growing up, and I’m not always going to be her Superman is hard. Talking about colleges 3000 miles away, where I can’t be there in a few moments if she needs me, just makes it all the more real.
She’s a bright, talented, strong and beautiful young women. I am proud of her in so many ways. I know she has a bright future. The brain is all in, it’s just the heart that struggles.
But I still wish I’d have captured that last “Daddy.”