In the week leading up to the first day of kindergarten, Megan seemed most concerned about her lunch.
She was always a big eater. Pasta, bread, beef, chicken, fruit, vegetables, doughnuts. Whatever we put in front of her, she would keep eating until we pried her away from the table. It was like living with a very short offensive lineman.
When the topic of that inaugural brown bag lunch came up, she had a request: "Can I have a special treat?"
"Of course," I told her. "What do you want?"
"Skittles, it is."
She was so prepared for kindergarten, already reading books and dazzling us with her unusually good memory long before that September came. She loved other kids. She had a great sense of humor and a contagious laugh. A weak eye muscle meant she had glasses from the time she was 2, which made her look even smarter. And cuter.
I, on the other hand, was not ready. The thought of that little girl with the big smile and the bigger glasses at school all day never failed to choke me up.
In the photo her mother took of us waiting to enter elementary school for the first time, Megan looks as if she's excitedly waiting for a pony ride. I look at that picture, in which I'm holding her little hand, and I see a man desperately trying to keep it together.
She was an excellent student. During those early parent-teacher conferences, my wife and I would enter the classroom, and Megan's teachers would all but give us a standing ovation. The words they would use to describe our first offspring were both effusive and accurate. Intelligent. Gifted, even. Polite. Sweet. Funny. Friendly.
Megan's personality didn't change much as the years rolled by. She got contact lenses, thinned out, shot up and started looking like a young lady, but the same adjectives applied.
And then, suddenly, she was a senior in high school.
At the start of the school year, the district sent home a letter asking parents if they would like to place a baby picture of the graduate in the yearbook along with a few words.
My wife picked out a picture of 1-year-old Megan at Darien Lake, her body submerged in a big vat of rubber balls, only her chubby face showing. She included this Dr. Seuss verse:
"How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December is here before it's June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"
When I saw the picture paired with the poem in the yearbook, my reaction stunned me. Not only did I feel a tear coming, I was sure I was about to weep. I darted from the room to try to collect myself, but for days afterward, every time I thought about that line -- "How did it get so late so soon?" -- it would start again. I announced that I was planning to sit by myself at graduation so as not to embarrass her and everyone else.
I began to get control of my emotions in recent weeks, partly because Megan is 18 and there are times when I can't wait for her to go to college so she can start driving other people nuts.
She called me at work last week to ask if she could take the car the next day. It was the last day of classes, and she said she could go in a little late.
"But you still have exams?" I asked.
"No. Tomorrow is my last day," she said.
"Tomorrow is your last day of high school?" I clarified. "Wow."
"Yeah," she said. "Will you make me a big lunch?"
"Of course," I said.
To which she replied: "Will you get me Skittles?"e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org