The morning of January 5th dawned sunny. My son shouldered his backpack and headed to my car like so many times before. Despite the familiarity of the scene, I knew when he returned he would not be the same, nor would I.
An hour later, I parked and we made our way inside his Air Force recruiter’s office, the drop off point for his journey to Basic Training and the beginning of his career with the military. I was doing my best (I told myself) to be strong for him and not cry, but when his recruiter politely indicated it was time to say goodbye, a flood of emotions overwhelmed my resolve. I gave him a hug and a kiss and for the first or second time in his life, my son saw tears in my eyes.
How is it that the most significant events in life hide in the understated moments? A whirlwind of thoughts gusted through my mind: this was the culmination of nineteen years; he had grown up and was no longer a child; he was beginning the next phase of his life where my responsibility for him ended and he became responsible for himself; my role as nurturer and guardian to see him safely to this point in body, mind and emotions had ended. I found myself unprepared to let go of the familiar.
I had been the first to ever hold him when he was born – not even the doctor, but me. I well remember the moment I laid eyes on him…the awe and wonder at the miracle of new life my body had created…the embodiment of my husband’s and my love for each other. My thoughts had quickly moved to my hopes for what he might someday become. He had captured my heart in a way nothing else could, and I willingly surrendered.
I was the one who gave personalities and life to his stuffed animal buddies from whom he derived comfort when he hurt inside when he was little. I was the one who intervened when he and my husband didn’t see eye to eye, which seemed all too frequently, as he moved through his adolescent years. Yes, he vexed me plenty as he grew up, but under the busyness of daily living, I was deeply committed to his success out of my love for him.
So yes, I cried as I kissed him goodbye. While my rational mind knew this moment was healthy and certainly necessary, that simple gesture of giving him a kiss and a hug marked me letting go of the familiar and stepping into a new and evolving role as the mom of a grown son who lives on his own, who I am no longer responsible for.
He will still need comfort at times and will hopefully accept some guidance from me now and then, but he will have changed. This is a good thing, an inevitable thing, but it still brings tears.
I reflect on the first eighteen years we have with our children. Excitement surrounds the birth of a new baby and the issues you face immediately are manageable. As they grow, the challenges become more complex and you feel less and less equipped, but you figure things out the best you can and move on. Eventually, this moment arrives and no matter if you tremble wondering if they are really ready, it reveals the truth that we are now, and will forever be, powerless to control what happens in their lives. Little did I realize this is what I was signing up for when my children were born, but this truly is what it means to be Mom–to love another human being more than you ever thought possible, to be humbled by your lack of skill in raising them, to continually seek their best even when they don’t appreciate it, to hurt with and for them when they hurt, to cheer them on to realize their dreams, and ultimately, whether you feel ready or not, to release them to be who you have helped them become.
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