The end, the beginning

Our experiences and transitions prepare us for what is to come

The march to graduation includes a procession of “lasts.” Last day of class, last lunch to pack. Finals. This is especially true for my husband and me this spring, as our youngest child completes high school.

When I wrote my first Spouse Calls column, we were the parents of a grade-schooler, a middle-schooler and a high-schooler. Their experiences have often found their way into this space, particularly at milestones like graduation.

When our first child was graduating from high school, I wrote a column about packing his last school lunch. I’ve written about the ways our three children have adjusted with each move, about letting them fly from our mobile nest, and how they’ve adapted to life outside the military — the only life they’d ever known.

I’ve gone from packing three lunches, to two, then to one.

Not long ago, I packed the last sandwich in the last brown bag for our youngest son. He’ll walk across the stage at his high school tomorrow and claim his diploma. Our daughter graduated from college earlier this month and got a job. Our oldest son is halfway through a doctoral program and is getting married this summer.

In other words, our military children are no longer children. We are the proud parents of three responsible adults. Our family has grown up.

As we’ve grown, we’ve reached another milestone. In a few months, after 30 years of military service, 15 moves, five deployments, three wars and countless temporary duty assignments all over the world, my Air Force husband will retire from active duty.

When I held my youngest baby in my arms the first time, his graduation day was a distant abstraction. Then it became a date on the calendar. Now it’s tomorrow. The future always feels further away than the past. Our memories keep the past close, but the future and its as-yet-unknown experiences are impossible to grasp.

When I was a new military wife at 22, retirement seemed like a distant destination. I didn’t even know how to imagine my arrival at this time of our lives, but I think I expected to feel old, to have a sense of finality. Instead, I feel the same as I have about other new experiences, like moving overseas, having babies, watching them graduate. It’s exciting and a little scary, but it’s not a final destination. It’s a milestone, and every milestone marks the end of one mile and the start of another. Of course I am older, but I don’t feel old. I feel ready for the next leg of the journey.

For more than eight years, I’ve written Spouse Calls each week for military families from the perspective of another military family — my own. I was born into a military family; I’ll always be part of one. Leaving active- duty life won’t change that, but it will change my perspective, and I’ve decided this is the right time to move on from my weekly Spouse Calls duties.

June will be my last month of writing this column in this space. I will, however, continue looking for new ways to serve and inform military spouses and their families.

A friend told me to think of this transition like my son’s graduation.

“You take everything you’ve learned in your years as a military spouse and move forward. Your experience prepares you for what comes next, like your son’s diploma opens doors for his future.”

Tomorrow our son will don cap, gown and tassel. He’ll cross the stage with his classmates and friends, with whom he’s shared homework woes, cross-country victories, late-night video-game marathons and quite a few pizzas. He’ll cross the stage, shake hands and accept his diploma. There’ll be cards and gifts, family and friends, pomp and circumstance.

We’ll be there, watching proudly. His brother and sister will be there, living reminders that this ceremony is not an end. It’s a beginning. This procession of last things will be over, and a new season of firsts will begin. For him and for all of us.

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