Here we are, the eve of college launch. By the time most of you read this, we will be College Station bound and I will be on the other side of taking my oldest to college. By then, my station in motherhood will have changed and I’m sure I’ll have some wisdom to share. Either that, or I’ll have a tube of waterproof mascara and some tissues to lend you.
But first, before any of that happens, I wanted to share how I’m feeling now (and many other mamas I know), on the eve of college launch, before those feelings get glossed over by life. If, for no other reason, than perspective which I will surely have gained four months from now, at Christmas break. At least that’s what the college moms tell me.
The accounts of conflicted feelings are true – one minute you want to hang on to your kid forever and your mind is filled with nothing but happy memories and the next you want to string them up by their toenails and shout: Good luck, I hope you figure it out! Add in some excitement, trepidation, worry, anxiety, happiness and emotion and that’s pretty much the range of things we feel about every ten minutes.
The big things have been way easier than I imagined. The last first day of school, cap and gown photos, prank day, prom, graduation – they were all filled with so much excitement and joy. It was the small moments in between those smiling Instagram photos that wrecked me. I was usually blindsided and never saw them coming until my eyes would fill up with tears.
Just last week, as I was gathering up all our towels to wash, a younger sibling said, “Well, you won’t have to wash Will’s towels next year.” Just as the tears formed, he followed it with, “It’s okay though, we have pictures of Will. We won’t forget him.” Kids. Am I right?
In order to have a new beginning, we have to embrace the ending. It’s the embrace that I find so terribly conflicting. It’s holding my heart in my hands and feeling it break and burst with pride, simultaneously.
Tonight, we had our last family dinner. The soon-to-be college freshman asked for steak and baked potatoes. Well played, Mr. I’m about to be eating dorm food every day. And then it was bedtime for the younger set. My kindergartner waited to turn out the lights until she got her evening hug from big brother. And my eyes caught Will’s. For a moment, I couldn’t breathe. Please God, don’t let it be over. Don’t let the things I’ve come to take for granted be ending. Please let what we did, how much we prayed, the memories we made, the lessons we taught – let them be enough.
Will shut the door and I rocked his sister to sleep, with one of her hands resting on my heart and the other on my cheek. Reality finally hit me like a ton of bricks. My day-to-day parenting game is over. I’m now just an adviser in his life, no longer the captain.
When you’re in the trenches of raising babies, it feels like the season will last indefinitely. You’ll be changing diapers and putting people in timeout, yelling for someone to come unload the dishwasher or finish up homework for like 75 years. And then you aren’t.
But lest you think this is the post where I tell you to savor it all. That the years go by fast even though the days are long. This where I tell you, and me, that this letting go is what we get to do.
We are alive and loving our children. We get to send them to college and out into the world. Our kids are launching and finding their wings. They get to grow up. And, God willing, we get to watch it all happen. Because somewhere, there’s a mom who has no child to rock, no bags to pack, and no tuition bill to pay. And I’m betting she would trade her heartache for yours.
Tomorrow, somehow and some way, I will hug my teenager and allow myself to feel the feelings – the hard ones and the easy ones – and I will be grateful. I will be grateful for all the mistakes we’ve made and pray we learned from them. I will be grateful he’s in a place that’s sure to shape him into a man. I will be grateful that he’s about to meet his life friends, the ones he invites to his wedding and keeps forever. I will be grateful that Aggieland is only two hours away. And I will be grateful to be his mom.
If there’s any true and abiding lesson I’ve learned from 18 years of motherhood, it’s this: it just gets better. I have to believe the moms who are ahead of me are telling me the truth. The best really is coming.
The time has come for me to pack up all those precious lasts and fix my gaze, and my heart, on a whole new season of firsts. But first, pass the Kleenex please.