There is an old expression about parenthood: “The days are long but the years are short.”
Truer words were never spoken as you prepare for the high school graduation of your youngest child.
We moved to Vashon Island 18 years ago, when Will was just 5 months old. He has spent his entire life on this little island. His older sisters are off in the world at 23 and 21, and now he is about to follow them, going to school at Temple University in Philadelphia in the fall.
But the years did fly. And our 23-year-long journey raising kids will be wrapping up. No more bringing orange slices to games, serving as field trip chaperone or fundraising for the PTSA. No more running Camp Fire meetings or softball practices, rehearsing musicals with the kids. I will miss chaperoning class parties and big birthday celebrations for the kids. And right up there on the list: I will miss Sunday mornings. Often Will had his pals spend the night, and I would get out the family griddle and make pancake feasts for them all in the morning, as we caught up with the boys.
But I think the thing I will miss most is represented in this photo. It was the last day of school, held at KVI Beach. A bunch of us moms would head down to the beach after school. I always brought a ton of hamburgers and hot dogs and made stuff on a grill over an open fire. I always loved the customary photo-op moment. This one is from when the kids were maybe in third grade.
These kids are all headed off into the world in a couple of months to Cal Poly, Gonzaga, UPS and more. They are ready to begin their lives. But I close my eyes, and I can practically smell the open fire.
You see, I have a theory about parenting: I think there are very few things that actually measure up to the enormous expectations you place on them. Parties for lots of kids lead to hurt feelings and drama. Chaperoning field trips can be exhausting. Often, things just were tougher than you planned.
But not the KVI Last Day. Gosh, I lived for that day. It was the feeling of happiness watching the kids just soak up the best island life has to offer. It was fellowship with other parents. It was just sitting back and watching them be kids.
Watching the final kid leave the house is incredibly melancholy to me. It was such an amazingly important part of my life, one I never planned. I never saw myself as a stay-at-home mom or a softball coach. But I was able to change my career for a while and be here for the kids, coaching games and leading outings. I was also lucky enough to get back into my career when I was ready. But still, wrapping up this chapter feels like saying goodbye to a very important part of myself.
My dear friends tell me there is hope after we drop Will off at Temple. What will the empty nest bring? Will my husband Bob and I travel together the way we used to? Will we begin new hobbies together or go out to dinner more?
I hope the next chapter is full of possibility and change, rather than filled with melancholy and sentimentality.
For many years, I wrote a column in this paper and some others in Seattle. In this paper, it was called “Growing up on Vashon.” I wrote about my trials and travails with the kids. Then one day, when Will was in fifth grade, I wrote a column called “How to raise a sensitive boy.” His teacher took him aside and complimented him, saying the column was a wonderful look at how caring he was. Will promptly asked me to drop the column.
I did stop, but I missed writing. And now that Will is about to leave home and unable to boss me around, I can admit it: I did raise a sensitive boy. He has a huge heart, wants to fix injustices, has a wicked humor and presents as a joker sometimes. But he is also sensitive. And I will miss him. I will also miss making pancakes for his wonderful friends and watching Nerf gun bullets fly through the house or laughter coming from the trampoline outside. And I will totally miss the last day of school at KVI with these fantastic kids.
With that, Vashon — we pass the torch to the rest of you parents coming up behind us. Just remember this when you are tired or juggling a thousand things: The days are long, but the years are short.
— Lauri Hennessey is the vice president of engagement at Woodland Park Zoo and the mother of three who came up through the Vashon School District.