Remember that time when I poured my heart out about you leaving for your freshman year of college? Four years ago it seemed like such a monumental change, with your sister already living in Philadelphia and you heading to a campus nine hours away. Now we’ve reached the end of this summer - possibly the last summer you’ll spend here - and it’s a much bigger adjustment than that of four years ago.
I sensed this summer was different for you from the first week you came home in May. Early on you admitted to the feeling that this time seemed more like a visit. You've been restless and ready for senior year where you'll gain the final momentum to fly, and your dad and I know there's a strong probability you - our gutsy second born - will spread your glorious wings far. After all, one of your most spoken phrases as a toddler was "I do it!"
Sometime in the past couple of weeks the uncomfortable memory of a long ago confrontation came flooding back to me, from the day I told my parents your dad and I would be moving closer to our jobs a half hour away from them. Your grandmother stood in the kitchen with angry tears and fiercely swore they would never call me because I was moving a toll call away, as though I had announced we'd be starting our life together in Alaska. Back then I didn't see her fear through her words. Having you around this summer had given me new insight about how things were more than 30 years ago when I was on the receiving end of Too Much Mom.
Maybe your subtle changes struck a nerve in me - I don't know - but there's been a startlingly pervasive sense of panic coursing through my veins that life as we know it would soon be void of the magnitude of your presence. I pictured with dread that last morning when you would pull out of the driveway after I've hugged you tight and tried to hold back tears that would come long before tail lights turn the corner. I fully expected to deal with this weighty unease until the day you drove off, as I am - after all - my mother's child. Then the three of us went away for one night and it changed everything.
It was during our little family mini-getaway just before you left. We were at dinner, you, me and your dad, all pretty relaxed and enjoying the pleasant restaurant atmosphere, when I realized I was seeing you - really seeing you for the first time. I don't know what changed, if anything, but at that moment in time I knew you to be a beautiful, wise-beyond-your-years, totally capable adult. Right there in the middle of the restaurant my body suddenly released every hint of anxiety almost as if I was melting into it, so much so that I felt close to crying with relief. In an instant I no longer feared for you or for me.
I'm thankful you were with us for that trip. It wouldn't have been the same without you. I also realize that from now on nothing will be the same with you, and that’s all right. You haven’t left us with an empty nest, which sounds so daunting and difficult to recover from. What really remains is the empty net. You don’t need me to catch you every time – you’ve spent the last 21 years preparing to find your own way. So I am slowly but purposefully learning to do what is natural and let go. And I’m lovingly aware of the hardest part - that you, my girl, are letting go of me.