[I began this post last week, right before my son left for college, but I wasn’t able to finish it. Until today.]
The car is packed and sits waiting for the inevitable morning drive to college for freshman drop off. I stare out the window, watching the silent car sitting in the drive, wondering if I will be able to sleep.
Over the past few days, I have lived in a state of internal panic. My mind is bombarded with all of the wisdom I have neglected to impart to my son, the lessons I didn’t remember to teach, the “teachable moments” that have slipped by as I carelessly thought, Next time, I’ll teach that lesson. As a single mother, the burden of guiding and teaching has fallen solely on me, and I know there are things (many things) I have forgotten.
Yet, this day is one that has been looming on the horizon since the birth of this child. It has been talked about, planned for, worked toward, and encouraged for as long as I can remember. As long as my son can remember. My son, my first-born child.
This is the child who taught me how to be a mother. When he was born, the weight and solidity of his tiny infant body in the transition between womb and world was unexpected to me. In the early days and subsequent weeks—months… years—he taught me to sleep lightly, so I could hear the murmurs and cries when he woke. By sleeping lightly, I could hear the disturbances, the coughing, the bad dreams, and the nonsensical phrases uttered in the depths of sleep.
He taught me to watch carefully to protect him from dangers. He taught me to stay a step or two away, so he could explore on his own with me always ready to catch him—physically or metaphorically—if he fell.
I pushed this child gently, urging him to step away when he held tightly and wouldn’t let me out of his sight in his first days of preschool.
He taught me to be brave in the pediatrician’s office—most notably when the doctor was painstakingly and painfully placing four stitches into his three-year-old lip late one February night.
He taught me that my instincts for him, for all of my children, were as valid as a single teacher’s decree. When his preschool teacher advised me to hold him back so that someday he might be a leader, I chose to keep him with his age-peers. He became a leader on his own schedule.
He taught me to love fiercely because childhood is just a blip on a parent’s radar.
This child is the one who taught me how deeply a parent can love.
I now realize that over the years, this child has been teaching me to let go, a lesson that will continue through his college years and beyond. Now, this child is teaching me one of the toughest lessons of all: to say good-bye. Again and again.
Now, it is my job to step back, get out of his way, and watch him continue to grow, with guidance from afar, as he gains independence and finds his path.
This child…. This young man…. This moment.