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The end of the school year is just the beginning

• May 21, 2019 at 2:00 PM

This is it — the homestretch. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and the end of another school year is nearly in the books.

This is the time of year when parents are pleading with their kids to endure — for just a little longer — squeezing their feet into gym shoes that fit in September; when the seemingly endless supply of No. 2 pencils you bought in August have been reduced to a couple of quarter-inch stubs with no erasers; when those crisp, new back-to-school folders have broken through their masking-taped, reinforced spines for the final time, leaving just a top and a bottom like a school paper sandwich.

Parents are signing papers without reading them, writing checks without any idea why, and trying to keep all the final games and banquets and performances straight. Actually, that’s the best thing about this time of year: the parent solidarity. We’re all desperately trying to hang on and keep our kids focused on finishing strong, while we ourselves limp and sometimes even crawl toward the finish line.

There is no judgment in the homestretch. No one blinks an eye at a lunch that consists of scraping the bottom of the peanut butter jar, spreading it on a stale hotdog bun and calling it good. Suddenly, it’s perfectly acceptable to send your kids to school with uncombed hair, and wearing clothes dug out of the hamper really doesn’t seem all that bad.

Because summer is almost here. We’re crossing off the days on the calendar, making our way to that square where months ago you wrote “Last Day of School,” underlined it three times, added a couple of exclamation marks and surrounded it with stars.

For the seniors, however, that day has already come and gone, and the squares on the calendar are now being filled with college orientations and grad parties galore. For the seniors, the homestretch is already over. They’ve experienced the very last of their high school lasts — their final last day of school. But for them, it’s not just the end of another school year, it’s the beginning of a whole new phase in life. They have more than just summer to look forward to — they have an exciting and bright future that lies ahead.

Sure, the senior parents were still blindly signing papers and checks and rationalizing horrible lunches and poor hygiene, but for us, the homestretch was definitely different than years past.

I’ve spent most of these last days preparing for my son’s graduation party, and have actually found it to be therapeutic. It’s been a bittersweet journey, this senior year of high school; but sifting through old pictures, school work, certificates and accomplishments has brought tears to my eyes, smiles to my face and joy to my heart. Drawings and stories have made me laugh out loud. Photographs taken so long ago have conjured up memories that seem like they occurred just yesterday.

And going through it all has made me realize that this final homestretch, this very moment, is exactly what we’ve worked so hard for all these years. It’s why we existed on two hours of sleep; why we read the books and sang the lullabies; why we persevered through potty training, held the hands, kissed the owies and played the games; why we took the training wheels off and let go. It’s why we practiced the spelling words and signed them up for sports, paid the money, drove the miles, wiped the tears and hugged the hugs. It’s why we chaperoned the trips and endured the heartbreaking phase of not being cool to be around. It’s why we taught them to drive, then waited up and worried; why we encouraged them to try something new, try their best and to do the right thing.

All of it, every last bit of it, was done to prepare our kids for this moment — for them to spread their wings and fly off into the world to chase their dreams, while we hope with all our hearts that we served them well.

I don’t particularly care for the term “empty nest.” It implies that our kids will fly away and never come back, which, let’s face it, we all know isn’t true. They’ll be back when they’re hungry or have six loads of laundry to do, want to introduce us to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or just need a place to crash.

Besides, truth be told, our nests will never really be empty. Because they are full of laughter and memories and love that will never, ever leave.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019. And, of course, to their parents — the wind beneath their wings.

— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist

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