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Saying Goodbye To My Last Kid As He Heads Off To College

The questions that are swirling around in my head.

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A middle aged mom hugs her son in the garage
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I’m being fired! Well, not exactly fired. I will be staying on, but my position is being changed. My day-to-day responsibilities lessened and my hours were
drastically cut.

After over two decades of being a full-time mom, as of September 2022, I will officially be "parent-emeritus," aka an empty nester.

Receiving my pink slip wasn't a surprise. I had been preparing for it for months, maybe even years. Like all parents, I knew the day was coming. And still,
it hurt to be let go. Or rather, it hurts to let go.

I have been a stay-at-home mother a lot longer than many. I had my first child in my late 20s. I had been working as a merchandiser for a large department store. When I went on maternity leave without much fanfare, I assumed I would return a few months later.

But while I was home with my baby girl, the company underwent some management changes. I was offered a package. The money meant I could stay home with our daughter and, given my husband's travel schedule for work, it seemed like an ideal solution. I'd stay home for a year and go from there.

Quicker than I anticipated, a year turned into two and then three. We had a second child. We debated whether our family was complete but then, when both our daughters were in elementary school, I gave birth to our son.

Being a mother of three kept me busy. There were days I can honestly say I really rocked at parenting. I was fun, engaging, creative and patient. I put notes in lunch bags, set up birthday treasure hunts and made special mommy popcorn for movie nights. Admittedly some days I wasn’t as attentive as I could have been.

Sometimes I rushed through bedtime stories and said we would have a tea party tomorrow but then we didn’t. I liked to think I cooked dinner more often than I ordered in, but I am not sure that's true. But I do know that I always tried to teach my kids right for wrong, to let them know how wonderful they truly are and how much I love them.

Because of the nine-year age gap between my oldest and youngest, I had a long tenure as a stay-at-home mom. And I was grateful for the extra time,
especially when my middle daughter left for college. I wasn’t quite ready yet to be an empty nester. I felt lucky that I still had more time with my son.

Six years later, and as his graduation approached, I felt a little sad but I also felt a little relief. I had spent almost a decade in high school and it was time to move on for me and for him. We both needed a change.

But as July turned to August, the sadness started to grow. It hit me hard without warning in the most mundane moments. On a day at the beach, I saw a
mom digging in the sand with her toddler and I felt like I was going to cry. Did I play enough in the sand? Was I a fun mom when I had the chance? Did I take it all in, or did I squander my time?

I saw a neighbor and her middle school daughter getting into their car together and my heart hurt. How many times did I grumble about having to drive the kids somewhere? Did I use our time together well? Did I use those moments side by side in the car's front seat to have those conversations I should have had?

At the market, I put three boxes of frozen mini tacos in my cart. I also grab two ice cream cookie sandwiches and a big bag of tater tots — all my son's favorite snacks. It's not until I start loading the groceries into the car that I realize he is only home for another eight days. How can he eat 32 mini tacos and eight ice cream cookie sandwiches in eight days? How many dinners will he be home for and not out with friends before he leaves? Why didn't I cook more and order in less when I had the chance? I'm in the parking lot and I am suddenly sobbing uncontrollably. Was I a good mom?

Have I given him the tool to succeed and be happy? Will he be okay? Will I? As college drop-off day approaches, my mind reverberates with questions and doubts. Should I have brought him a bigger fan? Are the Tide PODS a better choice or is a liquid washing detergent the way to go? Is the 8 a.m. lab he is signed up to take a mistake? Did he choose the right college? How will he adjust? How will I?

I've loved these days, these months, these years, these moments of being a mom. To say goodbye to this part of my life, to my "baby", who is now a
wonderful young adult, is devastating. He may not need me as much as he once did; neither do his older sisters. That was the job I signed on to when I had my children. To take care of them until they could take care of themselves. I do want him to let go and thrive. The fact that he is confident and determined to forge forward independently is good, and I know that. Even through my tears, I know it's time.