My heart is heavy tonight and sleep is not likely to happen. I used to sit in this room in the wee hours of the night to comfort and feed my crying babies. I am longing for those intimate mother-child moments when they were all mine. As I let the memories flood my consciousness, their faces are etched permanently in my mind. My body and soul feels the absence of these tiny babies on a primal level and the physical and spiritual boundary between us seem indiscernible. These recollections are palpable and seem like yesterday, even though decades have elapsed.

In a few short hours, we will pack up the car and bring our fourth and last child to college. You see, she is our family’s true baby. She is gentle and sweet and oh, so pretty. She has a nice way about her and I will miss her energy in the house. As the youngest, she was born to seasoned parents. We knew what we were doing, but we were beyond exhausted. She was our fourth child in five years and she went along for the ride more times than I care to admit. How I wish I could turn back time and make it more about her. She learned too early that the world did not revolve around her.

Find a Mommy

When my children were little, I used to tell them if they got lost to find a mommy with a stroller and that mommy would help you find me. Over the years, “find the mommies” has become a joke among my grown children, a parting line at the airport. Nonetheless, in my opinion, this remains solid advice.

For the first time in 24 years, I will not be involved in the day-to-day operation of any child’s life. There will be no need for me to enter the school in our town because all of my children have graduated from high school. The questions that once shaped my day are no longer my concern. Did she eat? What time will he be home? Is there a big assignment coming up? Does she have clean laundry? Did we print that permission slip? When can I schedule that doctor’s appointment?  This part of parenting is over—never to happen again for my children or me. How did I arrive here? I imagined myself a young, vibrant mother forever. Tonight, I feel like a victim of time. Was I consulted as to whether or not I wanted my children to grow up?  Who am I, if I am not a mommy?  It seems unbelievable and unbearable.

Emptying the Nest

Is she ready for college? Did I forget to tell her something important?  Was our home a good enough launching pad for her to accomplish her dreams? What will stand in her way? I have lived this night three times before. The parental self-evaluations are brutal. In my experience, things look a lot brighter after a few months. The initial shock of the loss is over and gradually transitions to the acceptance of a new stage in life beginning for all. But, as they go, there is always a lingering sense of regret. Parenting is filled with “if only…”

Remember, this is my fourth child going to college. I have no illusions about the herculean parenting task that lies ahead of me. I will be needed, and needed in ways that will stretch my person and parenting skills to the breaking point. Big kids, big problems, no doubt, no kidding.

College is the parenting version of planned obsolescence. Some features of the day-to-day parenting tasks disappear completely to make room for the parenting upgrade required to navigate the young adult years. As the adult in them struggles to emerge, I find myself wishing we could return to the simplicity of the early years when mommy really knew best. Yet, I am praying and rooting for them the whole time.

New Mentors

As she leaves our house, my advice remains the same, “when you are lost, find the mommies and they will bring you to me.” I am here, I am here, always.

However, beginning tomorrow, the mommies she encounters will have a new role. In most situations, they will not bring her back to me, but away from me. There will be new mentors that will help us separate and change the course of her life in ways that we can only imagine. Another day, another week, another month, another year, I will have the words and perspective to sugar coat this. But, not today.

It is morning now and some are waking to load the car. It is time to go.