The Last Week of Childhood

It’s happening, y’all. The Last Week of Childhood is happening at my house this week. This coming Friday, we will set off for East Lansing, Michigan to drop my girl off for her freshman year of college. Does my daughter feel like this is the last week of her childhood? I have no idea, although I suspect not. I remember, about a hundred years ago, when I left home for my freshman year at college, and it didn’t feel like an ending to me. I was excited and nervous and couldn’t wait for things to change in my life. I was focussed on beginnings, and I wasn’t thinking about endings at all. Also, I think that’s the way of it when you are young. There are so many beginnings still ahead of you that it seems like endings will never happen.

But, for this Mama, the ending is there. It is buried in amongst the happy feelings of a new chapter and a new adventure, but it sings through all of those things for me. It doesn’t take the shine off the “new”, but it’s there, humming in the background in a way that means I can’t ignore it.

The thing is … I’m not ready for all of this. I’ve been working on getting ready for it. I have been mentally preparing myself for years, and I have been ramping that up over the past year even more, all in the hope that I would be ready for That Day when it arrived. And yet, I find it was wasted effort. Well, perhaps “wasted” is too harsh. Maybe all that effort on my part has made this easier. I don’t know. Because, really, this whole process hurts. It HURTS. It feels like a part of me is tearing away, and I don’t understand how I am supposed to be okay with this. I am taking my most Precious Person — the person who means the most to me in the whole, entire world … the person who holds my whole, entire heart — and I am setting them free into a world that I know is cold and cruel and harsh and just downright mean.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is supposed to work. I’ve spent the last seventeen years, literally, following my daughter around. I made sure she got to appointments. I made sure she had food to eat. I made sure she was where she was supposed to be. I made sure she had fun activities to do. I made sure she was safe every night. I did my best to make sure the cruel parts of the world didn’t touch her, or, if they did, that they didn’t linger. I’m used to her being just down the hall at night. I’m used to hearing her sweet voice singing in the bathroom while she showers. I’m used to seeing her rumpled, slightly grumpy face every morning. I’m even more used to it now, in our pandemic times, which meant remote learning and all of us being together in our house All The Time. I loved remote learning, y’all. I loved knowing that my girl was right down the hall all day long. I loved how she would come and say hi to me in my office during breaks between classes. And now, in one short week, all of that is over and done. The house will be quiet and empty. It’s funny how the thought of just one person leaving a space can make you feel empty inside.

I think my husband is looking forward to our empty nest. It’s not that he is in a hurry for our daughter to leave. It’s more that he can see beyond the next week and into the future. And he sees fun weekend trips and evenings watching movies together and not having to worry about getting a small person to school first thing in the morning or to activities in the evenings. I’m glad he’s excited about it. It actually makes me feel a little better. But, for now, I can’t see it. I can’t see past the next week, and I can’t see past the sadness in my heart. It’s taking all my strength and courage to take a deep breath and let her go into the world.

She will be back, of course. And we are still connected by the ties of family and love. We will see her again in just three short weeks, for her birthday. But, after next week, it will never be the same. Even when she comes home, she won’t truly be “home”. This house — or wherever her dad and I end up — will be a safe place for her, always. Her dad and I will always be a refuge against the world and a support system and her biggest fans. But, from now on, “home” will be what she makes of it on her own, out there in the world. She will be a welcome visitor in the new life that my husband and I make out of our golden years, but she will never belong to us again.

But you know what? I think she never truly did. She was only “mine” for these few, short years that will live forever in my memories and my heart. I’m so grateful for that. It has been the hardest and most wonderful and most amazing thing I have ever done as a human being. Well, until now. Right now, in these last moments of “childhood”, I feel I am facing the hardest part. It’s a “see you later” that feels like a “good-bye”. It’s a time of joy and excitement. And yes, a time to let go, too.

So, I bet you already know what I’m going to do. I’m going to love her with all my heart. I’m going to take a deep breath and tell myself, “You’ve got this, Mama. You can do this.” And I’m going to open my arms and let my sweet girl fly the nest. Because she is ready. Because she can do this. And because I can, too.