A while back, our two oldest children left for college one week apart.
Jarring, yes. And yet, I remember thinking, I'm not upset enough. It reminded me of when I was child and wanted to cry at a funeral because everyone else was.
July rolled into August. Suitcases filled, rooms emptied of posters and books and CDs, and while I found myself looking longer and harder at my children, I was still not weepy. Nor was I second-hand weepy around the mothers who couldn't get through a discussion about goodbye without tearing up.
I was even a tiny bit more cheerful as September came into view. No more details, no more shopping. No more saying, "Did you," at the start of every sentence.
One brilliant green and yellow morning, I listened to the last movement of Beethoven's sixth, a piece my violist-daughter and I adore, and one I'd watched her perform the previous summer. I thought about that lilt in the beginning, the part she really loved, and wondered, where did it actually begin? I went to her room to ask her, and got halfway. In a week, I would not be able to do this.
I still remember my face getting cold, and a feeling of being hollow. And did I cry hard enough to make my best friend come over in her pajamas? Yes, I did.
As new parents write of lost identity when babies come, veteran parents write often of disorientation when babies go. What of the next relationship we ask ourselves, when we aren't yet those people we will be for each other?
For some, as drop off day looms, there is a wish to extend moments that are "special," and mixed feelings over unrealized joys, sadness over endless "lasts."There may be halting in the hallway, there may be cold faces.
But most likely, there will be thoughts of who will we be instead of us?
I have come to understand the answer to this, and it isn't something I would have understood at all had someone tried to explain it before August.
It is this: my relationships with our four adult children, are more rewarding today than at any other time because today, they demand more of me as a person than a parent.
They are different people, but share a tolerant, kind view of the world which they require of those they intend to trust. I've learned from them, how it feels to want to be wrong, to step out of old thinking. I have started more than one conversation with, "Help me change my attitude about something."
I've never found it so easy to laugh at myself.
It wasn't like this when they were in high school and living at home. It was like this after August, when they began the work of becoming their adult selves.
Until recently our daughter lived in Cleveland, 650 miles away from us. There, she directed a program which offered violin lessons to inner city children. Small children. Children who arrived tired and cranky and were more interested in my daughter's earrings than the piece upon which she tried to focus their little attention spans.
She took me to tour the facility. When she left to take a call her boss resumed the tour, explaining the programs they offered and the value my daughter has brought to them.
"We love her," said this man who has only known her as an adult, a kind, talented, professional woman. "She's a natural."
Later , we shopped for groceries and prepared dinner and talked in her kitchen about things we thought about, worried over, looked forward to, dreamed about. We had as much fun as two grown women can have when one is no longer – nor yet – dependent on the other. Today, we are more alike than we aren't, despite the twenty-plus years between us. We share a mother-daughter relationship, but have adult lives in common.
My August hallway question is long behind me but I have learned this: children leave, and they travel as far as they must to become their individuated selves. But if we give each other that distance, don't try to close it, a very good thing can happen, next.
Whether they move down the street or text us from their living rooms across the country, they will reach out again. It will be for answers or approval, but as people with experiences to share, in need of comparison, in need of commonality.
The fall is coming. Parents will miss their college freshmen perhaps more than they imagined. I say, let the memories come. And as you remember the times you'll always cherish, also remember the times you wouldn't revisit for anything.
Above all, be joyous about the future, as love grows right along with you and connects you, long after August has come and gone.
This piece has been updated. It originally appeared at Grownandflown.com in August, 2015.