This story is dedicated to my lovely friend Diana, whose daughter Candace graduated today, and who has been worried about not being able to find the right words to say to her on this momentous occasion. It seemed appropriate that Linda would find herself in a similar bind regarding her own Candace. Hope you like, dear! Everyone, enjoy, and be sure to tell me what you think!

"Of course I'm sure, Mum," Lawrence said into the phone. "We're more than happy to have you here with us for all of your stay. It certainly doesn't make any sense for you to go to a hotel for that long, and even less for you to make two trips just over a month apart. It's not every day that Candace graduates from high school and turns eighteen."

Linda sighed as her husband chuckled at his mother's response then went out to the garage under the pretense of doing a load or two of laundry. The fact that she'd get a chance to be alone with her thoughts had nothing to do with it. It was icing on the cake, as it were.

Her little girl was graduating from high school.

Linda could remember the day she was born, the little red face, the tiny perfect hands and feet, counting all the adorable fingers and toes. She remembered the first time she'd been called "Mommy" in that sweet, high-pitched voice. She remembered watching her little girl disappear into a school building for the first time on the first day of kindergarten. She remembered hanging the first piece of artwork on the refrigerator. She remembered fifth grade graduation, and a certain act that was so utterly embarrassing to the newly-minted sixth grader. She remembered calming overwhelming nerves concerning high school orientation and getting lost and not finding lockers and dealing with new teachers and worry about getting to share classes with Stacy and new clothes and not getting noticed and being noticed too much and on and on. She remembered sharing extreme pride in making the varsity track team. She remembered listening to agonizing over Jeremy. She remembered tolerating never-ending attempts to bust the boys. She remembered watching the exuberance about actually becoming Jeremy's girlfriend. She remembered sharing even more pride in being voted captain of the track team. She remembered all the solos in chorus. She remembered soothing panic over articles due for the yearbook. She remembered sharing the triumph in finally getting the lead in one of the school plays after trying out every year. She remembered going back and forth over which style of class ring to get. She remembered smiling with pride and joy at making the top five percent of the class.

She remembered everything.

There were times when she could still see the knee-high toddler clutching her Ducky Momo doll, with the missing front tooth and wearing her little red jumper dress. Then Candace would say something about the next time she'd get to see Jeremy or her latest trip to the mall with Stacy and Jenny and she'd see the energetic teenager again. The fact that the two of them were so close to the same height drove the point home pretty well, too.

Where had all the time gone?

But the reality was that Candace was just about to become an adult, and was leaving high school to move on to the next stage in her life. Linda couldn't help but feel she was supposed to commemorate this milestone somehow, give her daughter valuable insights and wisdom to help guide her. Wasn't she supposed to use this last momentous occasion to lay the last block of foundation Candace would need?

It's not that she remembered a similar speech from her own mother exactly. Betty Jo Flynn had said a lot of things as the big day had arrived, and even more as the big eighteen approached. But there had already been talks with a record promoter about a music career, about records and tours and public appearances and everything a teenager thinks she wants out of life. Linda hadn't been listening.

Linda wanted Candace to listen. Of course, that meant she had to have something profound to say. Because she was supposed to have something profound to say… right?

So why didn't she?

Why couldn't Linda find the words to arm her beloved daughter for the things she might face moving forward? Why couldn't she think of little nuggets of wisdom Candace could keep in the back of her mind to be remembered at precisely the right time in just the right situations that would make everything easier? Why couldn't she think of a way to accomplish this last most important task of being a parent?

After a long moment of drawing a blank, Linda sighed and gave up for the time being. Glancing at the half-full basket on top of the washer, she decided it wasn't worth the water or energy to do the partial load, not even to maintain the ruse that explained her lingering in the garage. She simply returned to the kitchen and began to prepare snacks for when the kids got home.

She could at least do that right.

Time kept moving forward as it always does, and graduation day grew closer and closer. Candace showed off her cap and gown when it arrived, laughing and twirling until the flaring hem knocked over a lamp next to the couch. Linda merely sighed and told the girl to put the outfit away upstairs, grabbing the broom and dustpan herself to clean up the mess. She was rewarded with a kiss on the cheek and declaration that she was the best mom ever before the teenager bounced up the stairs.

Lawrence's parents arrived a few days before the ceremony and quickly settled into the guest room where they'd be staying for the duration. They were happily greeted by the entire family, of course. They announced that Lawrence's brother and his family would be flying over in July to celebrate Candace's birthday, and would be bringing extra graduation gifts.

Linda's parents arrived the morning of the ceremony, filling the house to capacity even though they wouldn't be staying overnight. The older couples ensconced themselves at the kitchen table and bantered amongst themselves, usually drawing whoever happened by into the conversation even if only for a little while. Phineas and Ferb in particular enjoyed that.

Lawrence snuck out of the house early to pick up the present he and Linda had arranged to get from a fellow antique dealer from Badgertown. He called fifteen minutes later to say there'd been a complication, and would thus not be back for some time. If it ended up taking too long, he'd meet everyone at the high school and finish the transaction afterward.

Linda dealt with Candace. The girl was nervous, which led to her digging through her closet to try to find the perfect outfit to wear under her gown. Once that was finally accomplished, she made her mother help her with her hair, at least until she remembered that she was going to be wearing her cap for half of the day. Then she focused on her makeup, taking it off and reapplying it three times before she was satisfied.

Through it all, Linda found she still hadn't magically found the perfect, awe-inspiring, confidence-building, wisdom-filled message she was sure she was supposed to have for this bright, full-of-life young lady sitting in front of her vanity looking for stray hairs and wrinkles in her clothes. She was quite disappointed in herself, to be honest. It was her job as a mother to have this covered, she just knew it.

"Mom! It's time to head over to the high school!" Phineas called cheerfully from the foot of the stairs.

"We'll be down in a minute!" Candace called back.

Linda's breath caught as her daughter rose to her feet and straightened out the last wrinkle she could make out in her skirt. This was it. This was the last chance she'd have to be alone with the girl before they joined the rest of the family then the crowd of families in the school auditorium. It was time for lightning to strike and just the right speech to pop into her head…

It was time to just wing it.

"Candace," she said softly, stopping the teenager from dashing off, "I have something I want to say to you."

Sensing it was something big, Candace smiled slightly and met her mother's gaze. "What is it, Mom?"

There was a long, pregnant pause where Linda could only look deep into those dark blue eyes and take in her expectant expression. The miracle answer still hadn't come to her, and she suddenly knew it never would. So she simply said what was in her heart and hoped it was enough.

"I love you, Candace, and I hope you know just how proud I am of you, how proud I've always been of you. You've become such a strong, confident young woman, and I know I couldn't have had a better daughter if I'd tried."

Candace's eyes widened at the short, heartfelt speech, and her breath hitched. She bit her lower lip as tears welled up in her eyes. "Oh, Mom," she whispered, then jumped forward and hugged her mother for all she was worth. "I love you, too. I can't think of anything I needed or wanted to hear more right now."

Linda fought back a bark of laughter as she returned the tight embrace. It figured. After all the agonizing she'd done, a simple statement of her feelings had been all that was necessary. It made sense when she thought about it. It wasn't like she was never going to see Candace again, that she wouldn't be sharing many more moments with her little girl. She'd be there to support and encourage, take pride and soothe hurt feelings, listen and advise, just as she'd already been doing from the beginning. And from Candace's response, that was all the girl wanted.

The two of them pulled apart and shared a watery smile. Then Candace gave a groan and hurriedly fixed her makeup while Linda grabbed the graduation cap and gown, making sure the tassel was still where it was supposed to be. And as the two of them made their way downstairs, Linda realized the wisdom she'd been looking for had been inside her all along.

She'd only had to listen.