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It was nothing as I pictured. Really. Nothing about it was how I thought it’d look, feel or be. I mean I knew I’d be emotional, duh, but all the rest of it was like a dream or something. A feeling I really can’t describe because it’s not how I’ve ever allowed myself to feel.

All of the huge moments leading up to these past few days have been so insane. And the fact that I am who I amand am obsessed with embracing them all and truly eating them up individuallyhad them come one by one but at lightning speed.

The cheer banquet was the green light in my mind that things were coming to a close. And I had told myself that once we got the letter regarding the end-of-the-year festivities, it was going to hit like a tidal wave. And it did.

Shopping for prom dresses, online senior week house views, her two weeks’ notice for work, announcements, the cap and gown coming . . . but I still filled my busy brain with party planning and all of her friend’s celebrations leading up to grad night. All wonderful distractionsliterally, holding on by five fingers, that slowly were slipping to four, and then three . . .

Until Monday night when I found myself holding as tightly as I could with just a thumb. High up in the stands, with my family and a heart that had never felt the way it did at that moment. The music started and over 400 young adults started to make their way to an arena filled with moms and dads holding cameras, video recorders, and overwhelming love for someone in that line.

It gave me chills.  I knew that this was it.  Here they came. We waited, as she waited. There Lexi was in line, braided hair, flip flopsthat is who she is now. That is who she turned out to be.

I flashed for a second to kindergarten graduation when I remember imagining this day. Not even being able to picture what kind of personality would take over her life. Would she be outgoing or shy? Into style or creative? Would she be athletic? And, oh my gosh, what would she look like? 

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I couldn’t imagine that morning 12 years ago as I snapped her picture with Mrs. Cuskey, her first-ever teacher, that all those questions would be answered so fast. I had heard it would, but there we were. And there she was.

We held hands, and it was in seconds, “ALEXIS MARIE HALE.”

My world was silent. She shook a few hands and walked down the aisle. My eyes filled up and I just stared until a small speech of hope for the future was spoken and hats filled the sky.

It was over.

Childhood, the school years, anything I had ever known. And yet, the feeling as I cried was not what I thought I’d feel. I assumed I would feel loss. And although the first thought naturally is to cry for the loss of what was ending, I was so overwhelmed with excitement for her, I never let myself go there.

I spent 18 years embracing, enjoying, making memories with all the time I had in that chapter. My heart was so full of that time in our life, it absorbed any part of what others may regret or look back sadly upon. I stood with only the beauty of witnessing our firstborn turn into woman, with just the call of her name.

Looking back on this year, speeding by on the track one million miles per hour, it really seemed to feel we would have more time to fit all these last school-age milestones in. And there are still a few left regarding all of it. We have some shopping trips planned, which is always fun. And we have our week at the beach at the beginning of July, full of the annual fun and craziness, but this year, it will be sprinkled with some bittersweet. This will be the first family vacation when thinking about going is going to be tough.

I can’t wait to spend hours relaxing, having no plan, just enjoying everybody together. But on the third day, Roman and I will be leaving the gang with my family to take a drive. The drive to drop our child off at summer session, when, unlike the ceremony’s tears, it will not end with hugging our little girl and bringing her home. Somehow, maybe only with God’s grace (and the strength to move mountains), we will be hugging her and then leaving.

How I will do it? How I will kiss her face and walk down a hall that isn’t linking her bedroom to mine? I cannot imagine. I don’t know how something so foreign or unnatural happens. I just don’t. But I will do it.

This new phase will be nothing like the one I knew, but it doesn’t mean it won’t be just as amazing. Just in a different way. Each of the chapters in their book will be full of all new things. I think that most parents’ hearts ache at chapter two, though because unlike the last, these next years don’t have your name next to theirs on every page.

This next section has them as the main character. And although you will enter certain scenes, these are roads they will travel without you driving.

God has it planned wellthe ages they will start pulling back and wanting to be more independent. He purposely has them getting annoyed and gravitating toward friends. It’s no accident it happens that way.

He gives us all this time from holding them as newborns to their 18 birthdays. Time to kiss them, hug them, and share in their memories. To be part of their life, every single day.

All of this, for all of us. So it isn’t just overnight because it is bound to feel like it. It’s gradual as you look back but will be hard regardless. And knowing that early on can help to embrace even the smallest of things. So you, like me, can look back and smile through the tears.

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The other night we were watching a movie and Lex was sitting next to me. She fell asleep and ended up with her head on my lap. After everyone went up to bed, I just sat there and leaned over to rest mine near hers. I didn’t leave. My leg was asleep at times and my arm from time to time, but it didn’t matter. If someone offered me $10,000 to get up I wouldn’t have. I was as comfortable as I could ever be. We slept that way all night.

I will miss every day I don’t get to see the face I feel I’ve known my whole life. I will miss all the coffee runs and the calls from the shower that she forgot a towel. I will miss just jumping on her bed to find out the latest gossip. Or having her tell me that my belt looks stupid but she has an even better one that would look great.

I will feel sad knowing how much all her brothers and sisters will miss her being around. And, oh, how will I ever handle not getting a kiss before going to bed, knowing everyone is here, under one roof?

But this adventure of hers is about to begin, and it has endless possibilities. It can’t happen if things stay the same, so we are doing this! I have a new role now, and just like for her, it has never been so exciting, so full of promise.

Congratulations Lexi! As Dad and I said at your toast, you were our only surprise, and what an amazing one you were. We never had a huge amount of money, but you are the first of eight things that have always made us feel rich.

No matter where you are living or even sleeping at night, I will forever feel like that night on the couch. You will always be that close to my heart.

Originally published on the author’s blog

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

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Jennifer Hale

My name is Jen Hale, and I am a mama of eleven (ages 30-4) from West Chester, Pa. Along with raising my awesome fam, I love my English Bulldog and red wine. At the advice of my older kiddos, I started a podcast called Party Of 13. My goal is to make other moms laugh, dare to stop filtering their lives, and ENJOY parenting more by just embracing the chaos. 

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