When your children stop doing a sport or an activity that your family has been part of for a long time, it's a milestone. We've been on a swim team for eight years and now my kids are ready to move on (even if I'm not). Being on that team is what made the amorphous collection of pre-planned subdivisions where we live feel like a community. It was also something that we did together — all the kids on the same team and the parents serving as volunteers. It was a shared experience.
At our last swim meet, my friends and I alternately cheered as our kids competed, ate Italian ice, and fanned ourselves in folding chairs trying to stay cool in the merciless mid-Atlantic heat. After four hours, we were tired and impatient for the last event of the night.
When it was time, we stood by the fence to watch. I'd been fine the whole evening, anticipating this moment. This was when I'd let myself get emotional. This was when I'd savor every second because the ending of it all was going to feel real. I braced myself.
And then the officials called the meet. It was over. They had run out of time.
I looked at the good friend standing next to me. Her kids had been swimming even longer than mine, and this was it for them, too. She looked like I felt; frustrated, sad, unsure. We had something invested in this ending, aside from what it meant for our kids.
We had all run out of time.
Another friend stood behind us, knowing exactly how we were feeling. In three weeks, she would send her oldest, beloved boy to college. She knew that while I had a squishy 8-year-old at home, our friend was about to watch her daughter start her senior year of high school. This was the beginning of many small endings for her.
"At a certain point, you have to treat everything like it's the last time. You can't really count on things going according to plan. It's hard at first, but you just never know how things are going to play out."
Her perspective was well-earned. Her son, a varsity athlete, had gotten hurt and had surgery over the winter. It had drastically changed their last few months with him as a high schooler. Everything was fine, just different than expected. It reminded me of something John Greene wrote in "The Fault in Our Stars": “There's no way of knowing that your last good day is Your Last Good Day. At the time, it is just another good day.”
The three of us shared a brief, meaningful moment and then were confronted with disgruntled teenagers, who were even less happy than we were to have their last-ever races scratched. There's nothing like a surly teenager to snap you right out of your wistful reverie.
We'd all had Our Last Good Race, only it had been just another race at the time. I hadn't been paying attention. I was distracted, mentally preparing myself for a BIG EMOTIONAL MOMENT that turned out to be driving my kids home while they pestered me to buy them Chipotle. At one point, one of them casually mentioned they might want to swim again next summer.
It was actually an excellent metaphor for parenting teens. You expect one thing and get another. Plans are made (usually at the last minute) and then tossed aside. You feel heartbreaking nostalgia for moments passed and those still to come. Then you find yourself talking to someone who is suddenly taller than you and using a tone. The highs are amazing and the lows are brutal (and sometimes you veer between the two with alarming speed).
And those BIG MOMENTS, the kind I use to measure before and after, seem to be happening a lot. The first day of high school! The last ever Little League game! The semi-formal! All of them are heightened by the aching certainty that each one brings us closer to Our Last Good Day together. The last race of our last meet getting scratched helped remind me to calm down about the big moments and try to be more present for all the little ones. Those little, important things that pass quietly by, unnoticed, until time and perspective illuminate them more clearly.
The reality is that I am much more fixed in time and role than my kids. In a year, I will be much the same as I am now. They're growing and changing and always looking forward. As they finish with swim team, I see a chapter coming to a close. They do, too, but with an eye toward whatever comes next. That realization and the happiness it brings are one of the small moments I didn't expect, but will always remember.