My oldest child is starting college this week, and my husband and I will drive him thirteen hours to school to help him get settled in his dorm. Saying goodbye will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
A mother’s life is full of teaching and guiding, and it’s full of letting go too. It’s full of late nights spent rocking babies, praying they’ll survive the confusion and temptations of adolescence without needing intervention or therapy.
And before you know it, teenagers are born who pull and strain against the walls of a cocoon which has held them in its sacred embrace since they were just a snuggle in their mothers’ hearts. And as they pull away, we must helplessly watch as they cry into their pillows or endure the consequences of bad judgement.
I’m not very good at letting go. During my son’s first weeks of preschool, I hugged him and had to walk away as he sat crying on the floor. Leaving him there to navigate on his own stretched my mommy muscles to a new breaking point. And I piled on a few more pounds of guilt that squeezed my stomach into a gnawing angst.
Sometimes letting go meant pushing my son forward. When he was six on the first day of flag football practice, he didn’t know anyone and was reluctant to get out of the car.
He sat with his cleats barely touching the floorboard and pleaded, “Mom, I don’t want to go. Don’t make me go.”
“It’ll be ok, son. I promise.”
If it had been my choice, I wouldn’t have made him go. But he needed his share of dirt and sweat and the August sun.
When he turned fifteen I thought I might be doing something wrong. He hardly talked to me or looked up from his computer when I said goodnight. I often walked away and wistfully reminisced about how my little boy used to fly at me, smothering me with hugs and kisses.
Yes, I know all kids turn quiet during the teenage years. But he’ll never know how the younger and prettier and more energetic me poured myself into him until there was hardly any of me left to go around. But all teenagers forget, and mothers are just annoying. Please go away.
Through the years, my son and I danced to an unpredictable song, faltering and side-stepping whenever the tempo changed without warning. As soon as I memorized the pattern of dipping and twirling, the song switched directions and I had to adapt. At times I was sure-footed, and other times I was scared to death. We were making up the dance as we went.
We swayed together, and sometimes I released his hand and watched as he experimented with unsteady steps of his own.
Mom, I want to ride my bike to Michael’s alone.
Will you just drop me off at the movie this time?
Can I get my driver’s license on my birthday?
I’d like to visit that college in Florida.
With every milestone, he was becoming. And so was I.
In a few days, his dad and I will hand him a credit card and most importantly, the Xbox, and leave him to find his wings. In an awkward moment I’ll stand before him trying to translate the mystery of a mother’s love into the language of a teenage boy.
I want to tell him how very much I love him and why this parting is so difficult for me. I want to explain to him that he, my first-born, holds a cherished place in my world because it was his kicks that made me tremble with awe when I felt the very first flutter of life inside me.
He’s the one who carved the mommy into my body and soul and planted in me the purest, fiercest love in the world. A consuming love that ignited my heart, eventually singeing the corners, causing his needy mother to pull back from the pain of it and to stop being so clingy and involved.
This goodbye hug will be hard because in an instant, he will be five again, a snaggle-toothed testament to sandboxes and green army men. I’ll kiss his cheek and breathe in memories of new crayons and lunch milk and jitters on his first day of kindergarten—the initial step of a journey that would lead him to this point.
At the crux of where raw meets real, I’ll look up into his eyes and this time I will be the one saying, “I don’t want to go.”
And my grown-up son, eager to explore and uncover the future inside him, will reassure me.
“It’s my turn, Mom. It’ll be OK. I promise.”
I’ll manage a proud smile, thankful for our amazing journey together. Then I will commit my son into his Creator’s hands and whisper a prayer that God would take my hand more tightly as my son’s hand falls from mine.