If you'll permit me a departure from usual subjects for a moment...

It finally, and rather unexpectedly, hit me today.

I expect to get choked up at graduation.
I expect to get choked up (and probably more) when we drop her off at college and drive away that first time.

I seriously did not expect it today, when I ran her down to school for her last final exam of high school.

Baby girl is graduating.

We hopped in the car and headed down to school, as she ran me through her afternoon post-exam plans of walking from school into town with friends to hang out at the sub shop for awhile (Subway being the contemporary version of the 1950s soda shop around here). I dropped her off at the door after her habitual quick kiss on the cheek and, "Bye, Mom, love you!" tossed over her shoulder as she closed the car door behind her. I was fine. I pulled out of the parking lot, turned left onto the street to head back home, and the middle school came into view; it sits right next to the high school building. As I drew near the middle school, some class of kids came pouring out of a set of side doors with all sorts of balls in their hands and immediately started breaking up into groups based on whatever social categories exist for them at the moment. Guys wrestling in the grass, girls standing in tight circles whispering and giggling and looking nervously over the shoulders at the boys, a few kids standing uncomfortably by themselves around the fringe edges.

That's when it hit me. Baby girl is graduating. My throat tightened up as I recalled how relieved I was when both of my kids moved into high school--middle school is such a seething mass of hormones and every passing day brought its own drama. I watched those kids on the middle school lawn playing out whatever scenes their reality has set for them and remembered how vulnerable my own kids seemed during those years. Even now, picturing my middle-school kids' faces in my head, my heart twitches a little bit in memory--how much I wanted to protect them but needed to mostly let them find their own way; how alternatingly annoying and charming they could be; how we never quite knew what reaction to expect from one moment to the next; how relieved we'd be when baby girl would flash a smile instead of a scowl or when buzz-man (my son) would laugh something off rather than yell back in anger.

High school was ever so much easier.

As I drove away from my daughter today at the school, I realized that I hadn't waited for her to make it all the way into the front doors of the school like I always used to. I've had several months of reminding myself, "She's 18. She'll be at college soon. I won't even know what's going on." Apparently it's sunk in enough that I'm willing to assume she'll make it the 50 yards or so into the front door of the high school safely without me watching over her.

The event of going to college has very little to do with the kids learning to do without Mom and Dad, but with Mom and Dad learning that their kids are actually adults. And I'm good with that. I'm loving who my kids have grown up into. They may not always make the decisions I'd make, but generally speaking they make good ones. And the not-so-good ones, well, those are "learning experiences," as my Dad always used to call them.

My son is a few months away from being 21. I love the fact that he texts me several times a week--sometimes just to let me know what's going on with him; other times to ask for advice. My daughter has already said that she plans on putting Skype on her computer so we can do video calls with each other when she's gone. It's true--new communication has made the world much smaller these days. I'm excited for my daughter to start college--I think she's really going to bloom. My husband and I have commented to each other many times how much fun our kids are to hang out with now. They always have been, but there's a definite shift now into a different type of relationship. I'm enjoying every second of it.

So I'll wave farewell to the high school, the middle school, and the elementary school which all formed the locus of our lives for the last 20 years. I'll get a little choked up at graduation. I'll get even more so when we drop baby girl off at college. And I'll return to a house that would feel a bit too empty if it weren't for the two doofus dogs excited to get my undivided attention during the semester. And then we'll all move on to see what the future brings. Pretty cool stuff, all around.