What I will remember is this.
Not the way he flashed our I love you sign when the principal told the kids to wave to their parents in the crowd.
Not the way he snapped his fingers all cool-jazz-like to the peppy beat of the classic kindergarten songs, a happy hipster belting out tunes about flowers and sun and roots and wings.
Not the way he asked twice (twice!) for his picture to be taken with a friend, our shy guy now hamming it up for the camera with his arm draped around his buddy.
Not the way his teacher teared up at end of the ceremony and my husband standing at the back of the room, jostling the tired baby, said to me later that’s how you know she’s one of the great ones, isn’t it? That she still gets misty after 25 years of teaching.
I hope I remember all that, of course.
I hope I remember the moments wrapped around the milestone.
But what I know I will remember is the astonishing sky as I drove away tonight. Heavy grey storm clouds peeling away in layers. A giant, jagged line of blinding white thunderheads rolling onto the horizon, so thick and startling that they seemed like snow-capped summits, like we’d been spun around and set down in the middle of mountain country.
Because what rushed over me tonight in the wave of emotion I expected as a first-time mom at a first-child milestone was not nostalgia for the meaning of the moment or a preview of future graduations or the wonder at the baby becoming the boy.
It was the dizzying realization that a whole year had whizzed by.
While I barely blinked.
Older and wiser parents love to tell we new ones this head-shaking truth, that the years fly by and before you know it, they’ll be graduating from high school and I can’t believe how fast it went. I thought they said this because that is what you’re supposed to say. That is the natural voice of nostalgia. That is the happy satisfaction of having parented.
But tonight I kept driving towards those billowing clouds, mountains of white rising on the horizon. And I realized the sadness caught in my throat was because I knew that each staggering summit that seems to rise before my eyes today, daunting and towering and oh-so-important, will become like every other looming line of thick clouds before it.
I will pass through. A new horizon will emerge.
Time will keep rolling on, thunderous and true.
I wanted the years to fly by then. When I would one day be the mother of sprawling teenagers or beaming college graduates or wondering young adults. I wanted to look back then and see time speeding up, picking up pace with each passing year.
But I feel it now, the days peeling by under my feet, the months lunging forward like storm-swept clouds, a whole year whooshing away with the startling speed of a subway train that never even slowed down at this station, that is racing on elsewhere and I am left staring at the empty tunnel as its shadow shrinks behind to nothing.
What I will remember from tonight is this startling truth mirrored in billowing clouds. That today’s mountain is tomorrow’s horizon. That milestones mark what we cannot bear to see every day. That time is already racing by.
And that it is a still-startling gift that I get to be here. That I get to love these children. That I get to watch a whole horizon of beckoning unknown stretching out before all of us.
And he took one more step toward it tonight. Right before my eyes.