Author's note: The Mirror graciously asked to reprint this column, which first ran in 2007. Because my younger son graduates this year, the editors suggested I might want to replace the anecdote from my elder son's childhood with one from his.
But the original anecdote was only meant as a mental springboard for parents to recall a time when they first realized their son or daughter was growing up - and away. Because I think it still serves that purpose, I made no changes. (Domenic, I know you'll understand.)
I am among the countless number of parents whose son or daughter is graduating from high school this year. It is a proud occasion for all of the parents, to be sure, and certainly an occasion for reflection.
We can look back on 18 years filled with love, laughter and happiness, and - in the interest of full disclosure - arguing, anxiety and tears of both sadness and joy.
Sadness and joy are the order of the day because indeed graduation is a time of mixed emotions.
While we celebrate this rite of passage for our children, we might also curse the shocking and insensitive swiftness of time. We cope with the feeling of loss as our kids prepare to head out on their own - be it to college, the military, a full-time job, etc., but who among us won't admit to feeling just a touch of guilty relief that this moment has, at last, arrived.
In truth, it is a moment of great import, but only one of many along the circuitous path kids take to reach the cusp of adulthood.
I still remember the time it hit me that my son was growing up. He was all of about 6 years old and he asked if he could cross the alley behind our house to play with the neighbor's kids.
His mother was out, and I was with his younger brother and couldn't leave the house to shepherd him across.
"I can do it myself, Dad," he begged.
I only objected a little bit because I knew he was ready. I told him I would watch from the kitchen, and he had to be very careful and look both ways. He agreed.
As I watched him approach the alley, I could tell he was filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. This 44-inch-tall blond kid in shorts and a Bert & Ernie T-shirt walked to the very edge of the alley, toed the pavement like an Olympic sprinter, craned his head to look left and right. Then he looked left again, then right again. Then left. Then right.
When he finally decided it was safe, he shot across that 8-foot stretch like a crab had pinched his butt. It must have seemed like a mile to him. When he made the crossing, he turned, smiled and waved as if he had just scaled Mount Everest.
In fact, he may as well have. And as with so many firsts they do in life, you don't know whether to laugh or cry. It was only the beginning. First an alley. Then a street. Then no turning back.
As I think back, it occurs to me that kids graduate from many things before they graduate from high school. They go from tying a shoelace to tying a necktie; from bicycles to cars, tag to paintball, Sesame Street and sleepovers to MTV and poker nights. Life is a series of diplomas earned.
Sometimes you think you could find their IQ on a bingo card. Under the B, no less. Other times, they show sheer genius.
Sometimes you wonder where they came from, and other times they do something that makes you want to shout, "That's my kid!"
Sometimes you wonder if they'll ever grow up. Other times you wish they never would.
But they do. And they go. And go they should, because it is the natural order of things. All teenagers reach a stage where they want to be grown-ups, they want to make their own decisions, live their own lives. They view parents as simply objects in their way.
They don't understand yet that something much bigger stands in their way. It's called life. It's called making your way through the maze of experiences that test each and every one of us, each and every day. They can't circumvent it, can't cheat it, and can't bargain with it; they just have to live it.
And we have no choice but to let them live it, hope they learn all of life's lessons the easy way, and come to grips with the reality that nobody ever does.
Because this is a commencement of sorts for parents, too. We earn our degrees in raising our kids to make good decisions, and begin a new major: agonizing over how effective our teaching has been.
And from that, there is no graduation.
Dave Cuzzolina, a former Mirror managing editor, lives in Hollidaysburg.