Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Remember when you were little and school was over and then you had like 10 glorious stress-free, no homework, school-less weeks to look forward to? Summer vacation was our reward for seemingly endless months of hard work. And then when you got to be an adult, reality hit you in the face like a ton of bricks as you discovered that summer was exactly the same as the rest of the year, only hotter. You still had to wake up early. You still had to go to work. The magic of the summer you so loved as a kid was gone, melting away like an ice cream sundae in an August heatwave. It was like being stuck on a seemingly never-ending treadmill where the breaks are few and far between and the chance to relax and be able to pick up and do whatever you want, whenever you want, seems like the impossible dream.

The past few weeks have been a little unusual for me as I found myself facing a long list of “lasts” with my fifth and youngest child graduating from high school.

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I drove my last carpool, ever.

The school bus came to my house for the last time, ever.

And with no kids going to sleepaway camp for the first time in 20 years, there will be no camp packages to pack, no treats to squirrel away for visiting day and no scratching my head trying to figure out how to write interesting letters to camp when nothing really interesting has been going on at home.

The list just goes on and on and on.

My first thought after driving my last official carpool was to get up and do a happy dance, or at least celebrate with a batch of freshly baked cookies or something really decadent from my secret chocolate stash. (Yes, I have a secret chocolate stash – doesn’t everyone?) But while I was getting ready to paint the town red, one of my other daughters asked me if achieving that milestone made me feel old. I told her that, quite the contrary, I felt accomplished having logged endless miles at all hours of day and night driving carpools in every kind of weather over the last 27 years.

And I did. I really felt good about the whole last carpool thing.

Until one day I didn’t. Suddenly I saw ads for Jitterbug phones and LifeFone medical alert systems cropping up unexpectedly. All of them were like neon signs flashing the word “surprise!!” at me in hot pink letters. Further complicating matters was the knowledge that by the time you read these words, there will be less than two months left until that newly-graduated daughter of mine gets on a plane to spend 280 days in Israel. (Having had the privilege of marrying off all of her older siblings, I know that that writing is on the wall, and that one day soon, she will be riding off into the sunset along with her knight in shining armor. Then our nest will be really and truly empty.)

It goes without saying, of course, that this is exactly what we want, the fulfillment of every parent’s hopes and dreams: seeing their children growing up and building a nest of their own. But still, I can see that this is going to take some getting used to on my part. This is, after all, the kid who has always been home (other than summers in sleepaway camp). And I am not going to lie to you – this awesome daughter of ours is an insanely good cook and has been my right hand in so many ways that I confess that I may just have ulterior motives for wanting to keep her nearby. Finally, I can’t help but wonder if seeing your last kid graduate means that wearing sensible bubby shoes, taking up knitting and learning to play mahjong are all right around the corner – not a single one of those choices appeals to me.

It took me a few days to get my brain back in gear. Let’s be realistic. You can’t manage to have five kids and get them through high school and still be 35 years old, but it is infinitely more practical to look ahead to the fun stuff as my better half and I get to enjoy some exciting new perks that are, in many ways, like the aforementioned summer vacation.

I no longer have to deal with waking up early on a daily basis to say good morning to my princess before the school bus comes. There are no more phone calls while I am in middle of working on a fast-breaking story sweetly asking if I am can pick up a bunch of girls who have all just finished their history midterms and really want to come home and unwind. And we are relatively free to pick up and go anywhere we want, whenever we want, without having to worry about being back before the kids get home. In short, like the summer vacations we used to enjoy as kids, we can now kick up our heels and enjoy our growing family – as well as some hard earned “us” time.

Well, kind of.

As our youngest is getting her possessions together for her year in Israel, one of our married couples will be moving in with us for a while, with three of the cutest kids ever. They will fill up our house once again with giggles, fingerprints and their totally delicious personalities on a daily basis. In a way, I think it is the best of all possible worlds – allowing us fill up our nest with more little birdies and enjoy our super yummy nachas 24/7 without having the responsibility of middle of the night wake up calls or being the first line of defense when a crisis of epic proportions to a two year old, like not being able to watch a 37th episode of Peppa Pig, sparks a midday meltdown.

So as I try to find a good home for the graduation decorations that have been through multiple children, and as I put the last of 25 years’ worth of school uniforms in the giveaway bag, it’s time to move ahead with a huge smile on my face. I’m going to dust off the deck chairs, open up the patio umbrella and pour myself a frosty glass of watermelon-infused water as I write my next column while enjoying the scenic views and the antics of the groundhog family living in our backyard. I might still be clocking in at my job, but it looks like after many years of having a house full of school-aged kids, I have finally graduated myself, and like my cutie-pie grandchildren, am going to get to enjoy a well deserved and seriously relaxing summer vacation.

Now, who wants to join me for a some ice cream?

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