My oldest graduates from high school next month. In thirty-four days, to be exact.
The past months have been busy, comprised of a constant to-do list of senior year tasks. SAT tests, college applications, financial aid and scholarship applications. Senior pictures, graduation announcements, awards’ nights, activities and events, senior nights, the yearbook baby ad, grad night registration. The list goes on and on.
The thing I haven’t really prepared for, however, is the finality of it all. The fact that this is the last year she’ll live at home. It’s the last year I will be at all of her activities. The last year I’ll impose a curfew. The last year I’ll wait up on a weekend night to make sure she gets home safely. The reality of dropping her off at college will be my ultimate test of strength, and quite possibly, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. That’s when I’ll officially be letting her go and hoping, beyond every hope I’ve ever had, that I’ve adequately prepared her for what’s to come.
The thing is, though, I feel like I’ve been letting her go for a really long time. Maybe that’s how, as moms, we survive the inevitable event of our children leaving the nest and starting to build their own. Perhaps it’s how those small moments, whether they be heart-breaking or inconsequential, make it so we’re able to breathe when the unavoidable leaving happens. The first day they go to school without crying when we leave them, the first sleepover at a friend’s house, the first trip away from home, the first date, the first time they rebel, the first time they get out of the car without a kiss goodbye, the day you realize that they’d rather hang out with their friends on a weekend night than with you. For me, those were the baby steps of her moving on and the big steps of me letting her go.
I remind myself all the time that her pulling away from me is normal. I did the same thing when I was her age. In many ways, my oldest is the most like me. She loves to laugh, is athletic and dedicated. She’s stubborn and willful, is outspoken when she believes rights are being threatened or others have been wronged. Even in utero, when I’d press on the spot she’d kicked, she’d move to the opposite side and kick harder. That is, when we weren’t in the hospital being monitored on those days when she’d refused to move at all. She’s tested me from day one, and taught me more about what it must have been like to raise me than my own parents ever could.
They say you only have eighteen summers with your kids. I like to break it down even further: one newborn year, two toddler years, two preschool years, six years of elementary, three years of middle school, and four years of high school. At the beginning, when overwhelmed by lack of sleep and enamored by her baby smell and cuddles, I relished in the fact that I had so many years left. As she grew, I was comforted that there was still time; we still had gymnastic seasons, school years, summer vacations. We still had schedules to juggle and overbooked weekends, nights when dinner was either take-out or eaten between events, homework to complete while driving to practices. Frantic moments and all-day gymnastics meets I wish more than anything I could have back.
Now I’m left with months, weeks, days. Of course, I look forward to the vacations, holidays, summers home (hopefully), and pray with all of my being that she’ll move back near us when she finishes college. But I also know, no matter what, that she’ll be out there living her best life. A life that I’m fortunate enough to be a witness to, a life that I was lucky enough to bring into this world.
In truth, I still don’t know how to let go, and I know for a fact that I never truly will. For now, I plan to enjoy these weeks with her. I’m going to mail her graduation announcements, to celebrate her accomplishments, and to smile when she walks across that graduation stage, accepting that through my pride, my heart is both swelling and breaking.
I’m going to drop her off at college knowing that I’ve raised a good person who will do amazing things. I’ll say goodbye through my tears as she’s doing exactly what she was meant to do because she’s the person I raised her to be. I’ll give her a final hug and she’ll know that she always has a place to call home.