It’s a good thing I didn’t know about all of my last times as a parent. A million little lasts slipped by without fanfare, without notice. It’s only in hindsight that I realized I’d quietly done things for the last time. Changed a diaper. Kissed little baby toes. Brushed out a ponytail. Packed a lunch. Rocked a restless one to sleep. Watched the favorite movie.
There was a night that we watched Cheaper by the Dozen for the last time. A day that we listened to Story of the World for the last time. A last hang out together at the quirky gas station-convenience store-restaurant that is its own character in our stories. I’m sure I didn’t know. I’m glad I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have been able to bear the knowledge.
So many of the little lasts felt like chores, at the time. I was probably glad to be done with a lot of them. Finally, they’re potted trained. Finally, they manage their own hair. Finally, I can sleep.
The older the kids got, the more the awareness of lasts grew. The sadness usually paled in comparison to the celebration of their accomplishments. The last time I drove an unlicensed kid to a class. The last high school band concert, awards ceremony, prom. These are the big lasts, and they were so bittersweet. I have pictures of these moments — these, I was prepared for.
Sometimes, the last time came unexpectedly, out of order. I thought I had four years of visiting my oldest in college in my beloved hometown; watching on weekends for the little red car to pull into the drive. Their plans changed suddenly, and weirdly, and it was over. I would have visited more; I would have sent more care packages . . . I thought I had more time.
I thought I had four years of band concerts and half-time shows, of sharing a study room at the campus library. The pandemic changed all of that. I thought we were in the middle, not knowing we’d already reached the end. I would have brought flowers; I would have made more trips . . . I thought I had more time.
As I sit here in a puddle of pre-menopausal tears, I think I understand something of the significance of the lasts. Each one was a loss, imperceptible and incremental, of the children I adored. Each one represents the close of an opportunity to be attentive, present, and joyful as a parent. Looking back on the lasts brings me face to face with a few successes and a host of failures. Would I have done more, been better, if I had been more aware? If I had treasured each event, each moment, as if it was the last, instead of one in a list of many?
I won’t know. This is one of those many aspects of parenting where you don’t get the do-overs, no matter how desperately you might wish for them. Somewhere along the way, the last page of the last chapter of my parenting story was written, and sealed with “the end”. Another volume will have to hold all of the memories, and all of the regrets.