When you were very young, I held your hand as we walked to the end of the lane.
I had combed your hair carefully, and double-checked to ensure your notebook and pencils were packed securely in your backpack.
I got out the camera and posed you beside the apple tree we planted the summer before.
I choked back the tears behind a bright smile as I watched my baby, all grown up, climb the steps of the school bus, turn to give me a brave grin, and head to school for the first time.
When the big yellow bus pulled away, the tears came rushing out.
Those tears are close to the surface again this week, as my baby, all grown up, packs his own bags and sorts through the flotsam and jetsam of 18 years. You're headed off again, this time to college. Like that little boy, you're excited about the new adventure that awaits.
With the confidence of youth, you easily make your way through the piles of clothes and stacks of supplies. The "to take" pile grows higher and the "'leave at home" pile is woefully small.
Your dad and I are in that smaller pile.
We've stepped back, he and I. We're going through the motions of an everyday week. Each of us, in our own way, is mourning the life we're leaving. Like you, we've got a new journey around the next corner. I must admit, I think we're far more frightened of the new normal than you are.
But, for a few more days, we're holding on to the life we've known for a very long time.
I feel a bit like my job is being outsourced, and I wonder how to navigate when my main priority, day in and day out, was to be the best wife and best mom I could be. When half of my job is gone, what comes in to fill that gaping hole your absence will create?
I'll always be your mom. I know that. I'll always worry, indulge, over-protect. But, never again will I have the same day-to-day involvement in your life.
My friends, with empty nests of their own, tell me I'll be fine.
They say it's time to be selfish, to enjoy all those things I put on the back burner while I was so busy being a mom.
It's time for your dad and I to go on vacations where we want to go, to have dinners with our favorites on the menu, to talk about things other than our child. The big yellow bus will roar past our house without stopping, and fall will come without photos taken beside that apple tree, tall and strong, just like you.
And that's the way it's supposed to be. This is the day we've been preparing you for. We're happy about that.
Really, we are.
But for today, and for a few days to come, I'm going to mourn the very best of times.
When you were very young.