Kyle(8of53)I busy myself with tasks to avoid the inevitable–my son is leaving for college in less than an hour. I press down the knot of tears just waiting to spring up from my aching heart and will myself into composure.

“Not now. Don’t meltdown now.” I chant as my fight song.

I wade through heaps of clothes by my son’s door headed for Goodwill as he clears out his room. A wool beanie with a cheery pom catches my eye. The hat boasts “D1 Bound” across the side. Kyle was 15 when he bought the beanie in Las Vegas at a football tournament. He was full of nerve and pluck back then–bent on playing Division 1 football in college in spite of the odds.

I pick up the hat and hold it close, breathing in his boyish man smell. Oh no, not this one. This hat is going nowhere. This hat is a symbol of my kid’s tenacity. It might as well be his old bib or binky as tightly as I’m clutching it.

I carry the hat into my bedroom and find Kyle sprawled out on my bed cradling his baby sister in his arms and whispering affirmations softly to her. My heart drops. Oh Jesus, don’t let me forget this moment. He catches my eye and my heart splinters all the more. How is my son such a beast on the turf and yet so tender with the people he loves?

Last night at dinner, Kyle stopped me mid-whirl as I doled out seconds and thirds of steak and potatoes–his favorite meal–and he held me.


He forced me to just be with him. And in the stillness of the hug I broke and wept.  My son beamed a wide grin that lit up the room, because if he knows only one thing from his mama, he is loved. My tears confirm this simple truth.

Honestly, I cry all the time in this phase of life.

Babies were incredibly hard, but letting go of those babies is a whole different kind of torture. It’s searing and disruptive. It chases you down at Trader Joe’s when you reach for the kids favorite food and then stop yourself mid-reach.

Because they don’t need it anymore.

Because they will have their own shopping cart now. Because in the blink of an eye they grew up.

And you stand in Trader Joe’s dying a small death and clutch at your chest as tears prick at your eyes, stab at your heart and drip, drip, drip on the floor. And people look at you weird.

And you are like, “shut up, my son is leaving for college tomorrow and I’m losing my spit right here next to the jasmine rice.”

This journey of goodbye for us is a little harsher than most.  It’s more like the military mom. Most kids return for breaks and summer when they go off to college. But with football it’s different. It’s a job. My kid receives only a few weeks off a year and this next season playing for the WolfPack will stretch out for for six long months with no breaks.

That’s a long time in a a mama’s world.

I try to remind myself that his leaving is a blessing! He got a full ride and saved me a fortune. I am so proud of his hard work. I will see my boy on ABC and ESPN. And then I look at the bratwurst he loves and fall to pieces again.

I know my son will return different. Living on his own in an apartment, paying bills and juggling football and college–it will grow him up. He will be forced to discover new discipline and self-reliability. And while I celebrate this transformation and launch, I grieve the treasured years that will never return.  

I think about playing Winnie the Pooh tea-party with my golden haired toddler and using our best British voices to learn manners. I recall his chubby little arms wrapped around me when he scraped his knees (which he did all the time and it’s why his nickname is Boo.) I think of the endless books we read together, his non-stop mischief and energy, the never-ending stinky football pads, practices and games, all the road trips and vacations, skiing along side his snowboard racing down the mountain, and his constant non-stop smile. Kyle is an easygoing, affectionate, unusually bright and determined kid. He is a natural born leader and a lover of people. Not only do I adore my son and revel in the young man God created him to be, I like him as a person. He’s just cool. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with him?

Why do I do this to myself? Can I go to college too?

Finally it’s go time. We carry his bags down to the his truck with the monster Nevada sticker on it and load his life in it one bag at a time. We take pictures and selfies. We hug. We pray as a family and we cry torrents and torrents of tears.

But although Kyle is sad to say goodbye, there is excitement simmering under the surface knowing this new adventure is upon him and it’s exhilarating and terrifying and awesome. I sense his restlessness to hit the road and readiness to move on. And so I finish my last mama duty for this incredibly rewarding season of growing up my boy. I give him him a tight squeeze and then…

…I let go. 


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