It was exactly how I pictured it.
You went one way, and we turned and went the other.
You climbed the stairs to your dorm room.
We climbed back into the car and drove home.
In the very beginning, you called me Mama.
You toddled around on skinny legs with your arms in the air and called for me.
Mama Mama Mama.
At some point, you started to call me Mommy.
Mommy, where are you?
Mommy, I want a banana.
Mommy, my tummy hurts.
The change was so gradual, I hardly noticed.
For weeks now, people have asked if I’m ready.
The truth is a mother is never ready.
She is never ready to alter the familial landscape upon which she has built her life.
Yet I know it is time.
See, my son, readiness and time rarely share the same clock.
In many ways, this is the end of your childhood.
I hate it.
I hate how the house will settle, like a sweater around a smaller body.
I know, I know. You’ll come back, and it will stretch and swell once more, but it won’t be the same.
Things will never be the same.
Sure, they will be exciting and new and different, but they will never be the same.
Your room is empty now—no more cups stacked on the nightstand, no red blanket crumpled at the foot of the bed, gone is the giant pillow shaped like a shark. In fact, it’s the cleanest it’s ever been.
And I know this is simply the beginning—the start of a whole new season of my life.
One by one, each of you will leave—maybe not the same way or to the same places, but eventually the house will be empty altogether.
What will I do then?
For the last fifteen years I’ve been what you call a stay-at-home mother.
Who am I without my children?
Who am I, without you, my oldest son?
I know I wasn’t perfect.
I yelled about stupid things like the way you left your sneakers in the kitchen and when you didn’t do your homework.
I know you grew up alongside autism.
You grew up alongside a boy who needed more of my time and energy, and I’ll never really know what that cost you.
You are a Forever Brother—a boy whose story is intertwined with a diagnosis that is not your own.
I gave it everything I had. I want you to know that.
I wish people could see how far you’ve come.
How once upon a time, you were the first grader who needed the wiggle cushion on your chair because you couldn’t sit still.
An adolescent with more than a few D’s.
We argued about grades, and college, and work ethic, and the future.
Yet beneath it all you had a quiet resilience, and a tender spirit. And we chose to focus on that, instead of the report card. We decided to develop who you are, instead of who we thought you should be.
See, raising children is a little like growing wildflowers.
Some need more water than others. Some need extra fertilizer, or a certain kind of soil. Some tilt their silky blossoms to the bright orange sun and soak in as much heat as possible, while others curl inward toward the cool, dark shade.
But in time, they all bloom. They all open their petals and offer their brilliant color to the world.
I guess what I’m saying is it’s not about where you go, but how you got there in first place.
I hope one day you look back on this time fondly. I hope you remember there were more good days than bad—more laughter than tears.
After all, how do you measure childhood?
How do you measure thousands of moments strung together like brightly colored beads on a string?
Sandcastles, jellybeans, snowstorms, stomach bugs, faded beach towels, pillow forts, milk for Santa.
Burnt cookies, arguments over hats in winter, bikes left out in the rain.
Lullabies, and quick goodbyes, and kisses off the bus.
Messy conversations, late-night confessions.
Heartache, heartbreak, heartbeat.
Every time I look at you, I see your toddler face, your newborn gaze, your sixth-grade grin.
It will be an adjustment for all of us. The days ahead are both bitter and sweet.
And in your darkest moments—when you are homesick or overwhelmed or anxious—remember.
You are not alone.
Behind you stands a family.
A family full of inside jokes and funny memories and sad times and mostly good stuff.
One girl, four brothers, a devoted father.
And a boy who figured out if you scrape off all the burned parts, the cookie still tastes just fine.
Mama became Mommy.
Then one day, Mom.
“Mom, I got in! I got into college.”
It went too fast.
I want it back.
With all my heart, I want it back again.
My little boy.
Reach for the sky.