It's that time of year again. The letting go time. The time when I have to remind myself that I'm the grown-up. The time when the kids leave home.
"It's a good thing," I say to my husband or the dog or the chair. "It's the way life is supposed to be."
And, I believe that. But the house is still startlingly quiet.
This fall marks my daughter's third year away at school and my son's second so I should be getting good at this by now. Or at least used to it. But I don't feel good at it or used to it.
About two weeks before departure day, my focus shifts. Obsessing about my children leaving replaces the enjoyment I get from having them around. Does he need new sheets? Did she order enough contact lenses? Did someone send in the tuition check? I know this is just the way I distract myself from the reality that they will soon be gone.
As I become increasingly anxious and irritatingly anal, my kids try to keep their distance. But mothers are relentless creatures.
I like to think that if my daughter was "just" returning to Portland to continue her studies, I would be nonchalant. But this fall she departed for a study abroad semester adding another dimension to the idea of being "away at school." Oh, so far away. The day before her flight across the Atlantic, driving to Fred Meyer for one last round of supplies, I said, "OK, honey, let's just review how this will work. When you arrive, there's supposed to be someone from the university to meet you and take you to the dorm. What will you do if the person isn't there?"
She stared at me from the passenger seat. "Hmmm. That's a tough one, Mom. I think I should stay in the airport and wait for my return flight in December. What do you think?"
I think my 20-year-old daughter was telling me that I had crossed some line of ridiculousness in my micro-management. Attempting a role-play of her arrival was going too far.
The week before my son left he confronted me with, "Mom, if you say 'goodbye' one more time before I actually leave I'm going to stay at a friend's house."
Then he suggested playing the "promise game," a game I suspect he made up on the spot.
"I ask you to promise something and then you get to ask me," he explained. "Me first. Do you promise to not say 'goodbye' until I am actually getting on the plane?"
"Yes," I promised. "Do you promise to call me at least once a week?"
"Yes. Do you promise to not call me every day?"
"I promise to not call you every day as long as you call me every week."
By the time each offspring is finally on his or her way, we breathe a collective sigh of relief. Glad that's over. It's not a bad strategy, really.
When my daughter left for college the first time, I asked my husband to be the one to go with her. I didn't want to be one of those weepy moms organizing her child's bureau drawers and putting the sheets on the bed. But I didn't trust myself not to be. Instead, I stayed home and changed my password to "lettinggo" as a daily reminder to myself.
Memory is a strange thing. I don't remember giving any particular thought to how my parents felt when I left for college. Kids, even almost grown-up ones, are pretty focused on themselves and I was no exception.
This fall, after the house was quiet, I decided to dig around in my boxes of memorabilia and see what I could resurrect from that time in my life. What I found was a letter from my father when he was the age I am now. After several paragraphs of praise and encouragement, he wrote, "Mom said at dinner with just the two of us there, how different it is with you girls gone and how much we miss you. I agreed emphatically and we both reflected on how much different it is going to be next year when Dave also will be gone. But, parents have to get used to changes, just like real people do."
And from my mother, "Going to college was like going through a magic door for me and I want you to have the same experience."
Though it didn't register at the time, I see now that my parents went through their own "letting go" process. Letting me go was their gift to me. In the end, when I can get past the minutia and the urge to never let them out of my sight, that's the gift I want to pass on to my children as well.
Carol Prentice is caught in the middle of life, work and family in Juneau.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.