Early in my motherhood journey, a friend told me that from the day children are born, parents are preparing them for life without us.

I thought about that on May 23, as my husband, Brian, and I watched our youngest child, Ellen, graduate from Larimore High School. It was a day I was dreading, yet also anticipating.

I had the same emotions when our oldest son, Brendan, graduated in 2015 and two years later when his brother, Thomas, received his diploma. But both of those times I could push to the back of my mind the sadness I felt about no longer sharing the dinner table with them every night, celebrating their accomplishments in academics and watching them run track and wrestle at high school meets, because there still was at least one child still at home.

The entire school year leading up to the Class of 2021 graduation felt different because I knew it would be the final time Brian and I cheered for Ellen at her high school cross country and track meets, listened to her play clarinet at band concerts, sing in the choir and applaud her academic honors.

I tried to make the most of each of her ultimate “hurrahs” by living in the moment and not letting my sadness about it being one of the “lasts” cloud my happiness at her successes in extracurricular activities and academics.

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The moments I savored quickly turned into minutes, then hours, weeks and months and, before I knew it, I was sitting with my family on the chairs reserved for us in the LHS gymnasium and watching Ellen give her honors speech about the memories she made with her classmates in elementary school and in high school. Several minutes later, she received her diploma, then marched out of the gym with all 22 of her classmates for the final time.

As I left with the other families of graduates, I thought about how it also would be my last time having that kind of connection to them and with Larimore Public Schools. I will, of course, be back within its walls when I go to watch sporting events and concerts there, but it won’t be the same because I won’t be the parent of a student.

I will miss many things about my children being students, and I am sad it has come to an end. I can’t deny that I also feel a bit like I’ve lost my identity because I no longer will be known at the school as the mom of a student-athlete. I reassure myself I will be OK by thinking back to the days before I had children and recalling that I was busy and happy then. However, it still is hard for me to imagine a future in which I’m not attending parent-teacher conferences, bringing bars to postseason sports banquets and rooting for my children in their chosen sport.

The reality is, though, that all of the things I have described are about me and how I feel, but the graduations of my children and their next steps in life are about them. Our intention when Brian and I got married was to raise future saints for the Kingdom, and that’s what we’ve been working to accomplish.

We have guided them through the first steps of their journeys, and now they are making their own paths. Each of them will be unique, but all three are determined to make the world a better place. That, indeed, is cause for celebration.

Ann Bailey is a Grand Forks Herald reporter who writes a personal column twice per month.