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Saying Goodbye to Our Children

My husband and I are just a few short days away from bidding our daughter farewell for a few months as she leaves for her summer employment. Hers is the quintessential summer job – working in the sunshine along a coastline, meeting people from every corner of the earth, riding roller coasters just about every day for free and making lifelong friendships. Earning money for college is a pretty nice perk, too. We couldn’t be happier or more excited for her. Yet, it is still tinged with a bit of sadness.

It tugs at our heart every summer when she leaves. It’s one more summer when she misses the Summer Festival Parade and Grand Prix Races. She won’t be at the family reunion or all of the summer birthday parties. No band concerts or rides on the South Shore. She’ll miss our family’s mini fireworks extravaganza and bonfires once again.

It’s been said that God gives parents teenagers to make it easier to say goodbye. Somehow, I expected that when it would be time for the goodbyes to come, that it would feel like time. We would be ready. But, it doesn’t feel like time, and we’re not ready. What we would give to wind back the clock!

When we attended Lamaze class more than 20 years ago before her birth, our instructor advised us not to wish away the time. She warned us that childhood goes by in the blink of an eye. When our girls were young, there were a lot of rough nights with ear infections, monsters lurking in the dark and booming thunderstorms. It wasn’t always easy getting up before the crack of dawn to go to work, or to navigate through mid-day pediatrician appointments, snow days and sick days. But, one by one, all of those challenges dropped off until they were all gone. Soon enough, our children learned to soothe themselves through a thunderstorm, stay home alone during a snow day and drive themselves to the pediatrician.

On one of the recent unexpected sultry days, my husband commented, “You know, I really miss getting in the car and being knocked over by the smell of curdled milk left in a sippy cup.” Our car was built with a mysterious black hole for wayward sippy cups.

I guess there is still a little bit of toddler left in our daughter. I arrived home from work recently to see two bowls sitting on the kitchen counter. My daughter had brought the bowls down from her bedroom after I left for work in the morning, and she was still at school when I arrived home. The top bowl was clean, strategically placed to obstruct the furry growth in the bowl underneath. Next to the bowls was a handwritten note, “The bowl underneath has moldy milk in it. It would be best if you didn’t look at it.”

Leaving the bowl untouched on the kitchen counter to create the world’s most disgusting science project or throwing it out were not options. After I washed the bowl in the hottest water the most powerful soap known to man, I washed it a couple more times. Then I washed it some more. When she arrived home later that evening, I told her how gross it was and she replied matter of factly, “Well, I told you not to look at it.” Many years ago I read that the things that annoy you most about someone you love are the things that you miss most when that person is gone.

She’ll be back in a few months – I don’t know if I could ever summon up the strength if she were following a job across the ocean. But, when she returns, she’ll see the world a little differently. She’ll hear about the life her friends live in Russia, Bulgaria or Spain. She’ll have experienced crew meetings and post-work clam bakes. She’ll have learned how to pacify disgruntled guests, lost children and those whose gastrointestinal system just couldn’t withstand the jolt of a rollercoaster that accelerates from 0 to 123 mph in 3.8 seconds. Those are skills that will transfer well into her future classroom of kindergarteners.

Similarly, I’m sure that home will look different to her when she returns. She’ll get to enjoy conveniences like air conditioning, consistent working plumbing and refrigeration – amenities that aren’t part of life in her 120-year old dorm. She’ll have gained a little more independence, a little more resiliency and resourcefulness and adeptness at troubleshooting. She might just learn that there are consequences to letting milk curdle.

Perhaps misery loves company. This is the time of year when parents are celebrating with their children the graduations from preschool, 8th grade, high school, college and beyond. Tempering the joy is a little sadness. A major life event like graduation brings us to struggle with powerful emotions that are totally opposite of each other – happiness and sadness, eager anticipation and reluctant loss.

The world today makes long-distance communication with our children more personal and more immediate with video chatting and texting, whether they’re 4 hours away at a summer job or 14 hours away at a career job. But, modern technology will never make it as special as being able to go out to lunch together on a Sunday afternoon. It can never replace the feelings of coming home from a long day at work to be greeted by a bowl of rancid milk.