Our minds don't absorb things immediately. They say it takes 10 exposures to a new word before it becomes part of our vocabulary. Most of us don't learn things the first time we hear or see them. I've known this all along.
Sometimes, this cushions us from life's blows. For example, the sudden and unexpected death of someone close to us can take months to become a reality. We wake up each morning thinking the person is still alive, only to remember with a jolt that the person is no longer with us. For a few seconds, we expect to hear that person's voice in the next room; we think we can't go on a vacation because that person is not home. This only lasts for a second or two; our memories jar us into the present, and we remember. Still, it takes a while before we no longer expect to see that person.
The reality of our aging also takes a long time to sink in. One day, we look in the mirror and notice some lines on our face, or some loose skin on our arms, or a few gray hairs on our head. We notice that we are a bit out of breath after running up the stairs; we find that we can no longer be wide awake in the morning after only five hours of sleep. We find ourselves nodding off in front of the television set at 10 p.m., several hours before our teenager comes home for the night. And then ... it happens. The ticket taker asks if we are over 55 because she wants to offer us the reduced price of admission. Was she really talking to us, or is there an old person next to us?
I can remember writing a column when my first son was a senior. He brought home the form to order his cap and gown, and it hit me: he actually was a senior and was going to graduate from high school. There would be a last day of school for him, just like there was a first day, many years ago.
I accepted that. I accepted that when my second, and third, children also graduated from high school.
But this year, the cap and gown announcement came again at school. I commented to one of my students about how that spells the beginning of the end of her high school career. She acknowledged that, yes, it was strange to be a senior and to be thinking about the cap and gown.
Later that same day, I came home and my son my youngest child had one of those envelopes to order the cap and gown. What was that doing in my house? I wondered. I was having one of those brief lapses of sanity where the reality has not yet become complete.
Oh yes, I realized: He, too, is a senior. This is his year to graduate from high school; this is his year to order the cap and gown.
Not that he isn't ready he is, or at least he will be. He was wondering whether we could find one of his siblings' caps and gowns, because then we wouldn't have to order another one. I may or may not be able to do this I think we used one of them for a costume, and I'm not sure what happened to the others.
So, little by little, I started realizing: this is the last year of ordering a cap and gown. The last high school graduation. The last senior picture. The last senior prom.
I know it's only September, and graduation isn't until June. But, in fall of 1999, the photographer who took my first son's senior picture talked me into buying four frames for the enlargements, so that each of my children's senior pictures could be in a matching frame.
This is the year I will fill the last frame. That's going to take a while to sink in.