An Army friend recently posted two photos of her daughter on Facebook. They were side-by-side pictures of the first day of Kindergarten and the last day of her senior year of high school. Wow. That young lady was beautiful and had changed so much in those in between years.

We don’t always get to mark the firsts and lasts of our children’s lives. If we knew it was the last time that we would read them a bedtime story, would we take it a little slower? Or would we rush through so we could say goodnight and get some peace and quiet for ourselves? If it was going to be the last time they would climb up into our lap would we savor that moment a little bit more?

What about the last time we brushed/fixed their hair? Last time we rocked them to sleep? Last time they wanted to hold our hand? Kiss us in public? Say the words, “I love you”?

The firsts are a bit easier to remember and celebrate, right? First tooth, first steps, first time sleeping through the night. First word. But those often surprise us. The actual date can never be planned.

The first day and last day of school are anticipated and planned for weeks in advance, with great joy for most of us parents and children! And so parents often photograph those moments. We want to commemorate the milestones. Maybe we want to freeze our children in time somehow, as well. We know they will not always be this young, this adorable, this age, this full of promise.

We want to keep them with us, but of course we can’t and, really, that’s not the way this is supposed to work. We have been helping to mold them into productive citizens, people who think for themselves, who won’t let anyone fool them, who are independent and hopefully still seeking, learning, curious, and as inquisitive as they were that first day of school. Only now the subjects are more complex, more challenging.

Because we yearn to keep them from harm, from broken hearts, lost jobs, bad bosses, bad spouses, disappointments, but know we can’t ever do that, no matter how much we love them, we take a photograph.

We can look back on it any time we want to remember our children with a less troubled life, a less burdensome and stressful one. We will always have our happy memories of the day they were born, or the day we brought them home or that first day of school.

We are never more aware of the passage of time than when we look at our children one year and then, in an instant look at them 12 years later. Side by side photos let us do that. Think of all that went on in between those two moments. It is overwhelming. Overwhelming because, first of all, twelve years is a lot of time, and for a Military family, that also means a lot of change. There are most probably different homes, different schools, different friends, different circumstances in their home lives. A parent may be gone from home for part of the time due to a deployment on probably more than one assignment.

Parents change, too. And maybe a part of the ‘frozen in time’ photograph is also a reminder of who we were back then. Bittersweet memories crowd our minds as we think of all we have been through in those interim years – the challenges, the joys, the sorrows. We have all changed; we always are. That is part of being alive.

I love the story of another Army wife friend who awoke with a start the other night, panicked as she realized that her son would be a senior in South Korea! And so much of his life would be stowed away in storage crates somewhere in the U.S. because Army families are only authorized half the normal household goods shipping weight for that particular overseas assignment. She might need actual photographs to make the ‘senior board’ that all the other kids would have for their graduation festivities. She had to go through albums from those days before the ‘Cloud’ when pictures were developed and placed lovingly and thoughtfully in to scrapbooks and photo albums. Another challenge for an Army mom as she tries to get old photos scanned and mailed to their next home for something that is over a year away right now.

Moves are not just about ensuring the new school gets the kids’ records; it includes thinking not just months ahead, but years ahead. And it’s not just a ‘nice to have’ like a senior memory board, but it’s about high school credits, and sports they can play or not play in their new schools. It’s about concerns whether extra-curricular activities they have enjoyed that have made them happy and more well rounded young people will be available on the next post.

It’s concerns about the friends they will make, especially those about ready to graduate students. It is hard enough to meet new people and be brought into the community that is your school at any age, but it is a real challenge for a rising senior. Most seniors are looking toward the future now. They are a little scared and a lot excited about starting college or just leaving home. And so they bond together the way anticipating and anxious people do. They are not particularly interested in bringing a new person into that atmosphere. A new person does not have their common experience and so is not always that welcome. So that can be another concern for a Military mom and dad.

Beginnings, firsts, are necessary parts of life, especially for our Military kids. They know how to meet new people and welcome new people. So the hope is that there will be a few other kids who remember what it’s like to be the ‘new guy or gal’ and will be welcoming, and maybe even become good friends with our children.

Beginnings, firsts, are usually full of promise and hope. We, as moms and dads, can be proud of our Military kids as they move into yet another phase of life. And we can be grateful that they are able to move on, with the support and love of their Military family.

The Last times will also continue to occur, but the great thing is, the thing to be thankful for, is the First times that will follow.

(Art: Mother Combing Child’s Hair, Mary Cassatt, 1879. {{PD-1923}}  – published anywhere before 1923 and public domain in the U.S.)

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