Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 6, 2011

Our baby bird is ready to fly

Today is the last official day of school for youngest daughter Katie. On May 15, she'll walk across the Riley County High School stage in her cap and gown.

Husband Art and I became a part of the RCHS family when older daughter Mariya started kindergarten in 1991. Where on earth did those 20 years go?

Art was editing some videotape the other day from Katie's kindergarten promotion. A smiling Katie watched closely as the microphone moved from classmate to classmate as they introduced themselves. Then she took it confidently from her friend, said, "Katie Vaughan," and then just as quickly, passed it on.

In just a few short months, that girl will start college.

But at least for now, our routine is unchanged. On most mornings, Art awakens Katie. He knows after that to just let her be, to let her move at her own pace. I keep wanting to check on her. When I do, she'll grumpily mumble that she doesn't need a reminder to get out of bed. Then she'll dress, munch on cereal while watching the morning news with us and "primp" before heading out the door.

When she comes home, she'll eat a snack, check Facebook, do homework, tell me she's hungry, and perhaps chat a little about her day before returning to her room to do more work. Some days she'll watch some TV before announcing she is going to bed. If she's had a particularly good day, she'll appear in the living room to do what she calls her "happy dance." Or she may flop on the couch and announce, "I'm SO exhausted!"

Still, despite living largely in her own world for some time now, we feel her presence keenly - in her little daily dramas, in her room piled high with clothes, books and art projects, and in our occasional heart-to-heart talks.

But the knowledge that another milestone is about to pass is an emotional one for me. Not like there haven't been any in the past. At one point, I wished the dirty diaper stage was over and then, seemingly in the next instant, wondered when Katie became a fashion diva. I became frustrated when I had to buckle her in her car seat for the umpteenth time and then, just as quickly, marveled that she could jump in the car and drive anywhere she wanted.

Of course, I also went through similar feelings as Mariya grew. But for so long, Katie has been around to distract me. Now there's no one to keep my attention focused elsewhere.

And it isn't just me. This past year has been an emotional one for her as well. She vacillated frequently between "I'm SO done with high school!" and "I hate it that I've gotten close to people now that we're about ready to graduate!"

One way I have tried to adjust to the changes that lie ahead is to savor more than usual the "now" moments and not concentrate so much on the future. As each holiday approached, I really stopped to look at the decorations - pumpkins, turkeys, gingerbread people, Valentines and baby chicks made of construction paper, glue, sequins, pipe cleaners and feathers - all the products of our two girls.

I was also conscious of Katie helping me decorate. Next year I'll do it alone.

Sometimes it is the silliest things that I'll think about. At the end of each month, I've carefully cut out the school lunch menu from the Riley Countian and clipped it to the refrigerator door so the girls could check it. No need to do that any more.

So, like so many others in life, this is one of those happy-sad-happy times.

I'm happy for all that Katie has accomplished and for all the laughter she has brought to my life. It still makes me smile to hear Art tell about the time when she was barely a toddler. I wasn't home and he was reading the newspaper, when he realized our normally rambunctious little girl was unusually quiet. He found her sitting behind the rocking chair, her face smeared with chocolate frosting. The fact she was holding the newly-opened can in her right hand while removing it with the other was one more sign that we had a leftie for a daughter

And I remember clearly the time she awakened us at Mom and Dad's place at 3 a.m. She was sitting in her crib running her fingers over the silky edge of her blanket while quietly singing "Baby Face."

But it made me sad when she recently announced, "You realize I'm taking everything in my room with me, don't you, Mom?"

Well, no, I hadn't really thought about that. Mariya left so much stuff that when she moved to her apartment, no one would have guessed that she wasn't still living with us.

Still, despite these melancholy times, I also look forward to the happy times to come as Katie moves on to her next big adventure. I found my college years to be some of the best of my life and I imagine she will too. So while it won't be the same, I expect it will be good.

Left, Katie's kindergarten promotion picture and, right, senior picture.

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