“What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens.”
   — Benjamin Disraeli

I once heard a story about an elderly church lady who was making her final arrangements.  She prepaid her funeral and burial expenses to assure that her descendants would not be burdened with such things.  “Do you have any special requests?” asked the funeral director.  “Yes,” she replied, “only one.”

“I would like to be buried with a fork in my hand.”

“With a fork?” asked the funeral director.  “I don’t understand.”

The woman went on to explain that she had attended many church picnics throughout her lifetime.  “When they come to clear away the dishes,” she told him, “they always say, ‘save your fork!'”  Then, when the delicious main course is over, they bring out the most remarkable desserts!  Just when we think that the best thing ever has ended, something even better comes along.”

And she wanted everyone to know she was saving her fork.

Yesterday marked the end of an era for me.  It was nearly forty years ago that I dressed my eldest child in his favorite new outfit and his brand new shoes and watched him climb onto the school bus for his first day of school.  Yesterday I watched the last of my kids walk across the stage at her high school graduation.  As she shook hands with the superintendent and received her diploma, I wiped away a tear or three – just as I had when her uncle took his first steps toward kindergarten so many years ago.  There will be no more first days of school.  There will be no more open houses or basketball games or art shows or award celebrations.  There will be no more term papers or projects with their accompanying stress and frustration.  There will be no more educational beginnings or endings.  Those now belong to the next generation; and I will attend them as a benevolent and doting grandmother who enjoys all the successes and skips the struggles.

When that first kindergartener was born, forty-four years ago, I stepped into the world of motherhood.  It has been a banquet.  It has been my chosen career for more than two thirds of my life; and although we never stop being parents once we have made the decision to bring new life into the world, motherhood no longer will be my primary job.

As this day has approached, I have wondered who I might be when the last tassel on the last mortarboard was flipped.  I have wondered whether I will know what to do or who to be without a comfortable title to describe my purpose in life.  I have wondered whether I would recognize the person I would see in the mirror after that earth-shattering moment.

As we lay in bed last night, at the end of a very busy and emotional day, I turned to my sweetheart and said, “Well, I guess we get to be a couple now — for the first time.  I guess it’s finally our turn.”  As I reached over to run my fingers through the curls on top of his head, I thought of all the times I had done the same for one of my children.  “You know,” I said to him, “all these years of raising children and taking care that their needs were met have us pretty well-prepared to look out for each other.”  As we lay there in the darkness, feeling the wonder of how quickly time had flown and how the main course we  had chosen to serve up for ourselves finally had been cleared away, it all made sense.

We’re holding onto our forks.  The banquet is not over.  Dessert lies just around the corner, and we clutch our utensils in anticipation; because we know the best is yet to come.