They moved the Christmas performance area at the Friendly Center Barnes & Noble this year, away from the front window and back by the wall of periodicals, which somehow still exists in this increasingly digital world.

So I’m among racks of calendars and notebooks while my oldest child performs in his last Christmas concert with the other guitar students from Weaver Academy — the best high school in the state of North Carolina right now, his teachers and I keep reminding him.

He’s posted right up front with most of the other seniors, and I flash on their first appearance here at the bookstore just a few short years ago. They all looked like little kids then, tucked way in the back of the ensemble, their fingers clumsy on the strings and their guitars looking like giant dogs that had climbed onto their laps.

And I’ll be damned if they don’t look like men now, confident in posture and position, a transformation common to every high school every year, I suppose, but I only monitor one crew of kids at a time.

This Christmas concert is one of the first of the lasts: last Christmas living at home, last birthday as a technical minor, last day of high school, the last big summer of his childhood and, eventually, his last night at home before leaving for college in the fall. It went by so fast it felt like it all happened at once.

In some ways all parents re-litigate their own childhoods, trying to right perceived wrongs and maybe pass on some lessons so our offspring don’t have to learn everything the hard way. And in some ways, we all fail, because you can’t upload a life of experience on a kid like a hard drive. And anyway, in my experience kids hate parental advice as much as they hate jackets. And kids really hate jackets.

But these aren’t kids anymore, I remind myself. Not so much.

They tumble their way through a slate of holiday classics, a jazzy tango and a couple other pieces. And I see seated among the ensemble and weaving through the crowd a number of alumni home for the holidays. They pick right up where they left off, both with each other and on their instruments.

Awash in all these firsts and lasts, this is what keeps me grounded: They are going to leave. And hopefully, sometimes, they will come back.

Join the First Amendment Society, a membership that goes directly to funding TCB‘s newsroom.

We believe that reporting can save the world.

The TCB First Amendment Society recognizes the vital role of a free, unfettered press with a bundling of local experiences designed to build community, and unique engagements with our newsroom that will help you understand, and shape, local journalism’s critical role in uplifting the people in our cities.

All revenue goes directly into the newsroom as reporters’ salaries and freelance commissions.

⚡ Join The Society ⚡