One night, a couple of weeks before the end of school, my oldest son said, "Hey, mom, this is the last time you’ll have to pack three lunches." He said it like he was relieving me of a burden, instead of breaking my heart.

Before you say it, yes, I know that all three of my children are perfectly capable of packing their own lunches.

I do it for myself as much as for them. It’s something tangible to hand them as they head for the bus each morning. Whether they leave disgruntled or upbeat, I give them a kiss and a lunch. Whether they toss it in the first trash can the see or eat and enjoy it is really up to them once they walk out the door.

I have known since he started kindergarten what year my son was likely to graduate from high school. I am perfectly aware that he is grown up, old enough to drive, to vote, to make his own decisions. All year we’ve been marking high school "lasts," last homecoming, last home meet, last European Championships and — blessedly — his last time to take the SAT. The time is coming for him to be on his own, at least as far as college fits that description.

Somehow, though — blame it on the fact that seniors finish school before the other students, or on latent denial — that last lunch thing sneaked up on me. With motherly sentimentality, along with his last sandwich I included a silly note written on a leftover graduation party napkin.

His graduation party was typical for students at his DODDS school: a combined pre-PCS farewell and celebration of high school’s completion.

We co-hosted it with the families of two of his close friends and fellow graduates. The festivities were at our house by default. We’re the only ones still in possession of real furniture, a grill and kitchen utensils. Our movers come next month.

We had a house full of seniors, friends and family, munching, talking, laughing, looking at old photos and taking new ones.

Say what you will about transient military life, but it takes some kids a dozen or more years to make enough friends to fill a living room and spill into the back yard to celebrate their graduation. Military kids do it in three, two — or even one.

We don’t waste precious time.

At commencement, the principal recognized students who have attended our particular DODDS school district since kindergarten.

A collective murmur of "Wow" went up as six out of a couple hundred graduates stood up to applause.

The irony of that moment hit me later. This is our world, where growing up and graduating in the same place is a novelty. Those six graduates must be as adept at making new friends as the waves of kids who flow in and out.

That skill and adaptability will serve them all well as they head into a new life.

Moving a continent away from home and family will be a challenge for our son, and other military kids like him.

It is somewhat familiar territory, though. He knows it can be done, because he has seen it happen many times over.

He is equipped for adapting to a new environment and making new friends — this time on his own.

Like his last lunch, the bag of his experience as a military kid is packed. He can carry it with him wherever he goes. We’ll hand it to him when he leaves. Whether he benefits from it is really up to him once he walks out the door.

I just hope he reads the note.

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She and her family are stationed in Germany. Spouse Calls appears weekly in Stars and Stripes. Write to her at and see the Spouse Calls blog here.

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