As the mother of millennials on the move, you’d think I’d be used to saying goodbye.
During this summer alone, my daughter left for Sweden for an indefinite period of time to work on a sheep farm. My eldest, who needed to store some stuff at home, came and went from his Washington, D.C., apartment three times. And now my youngest is set to leave tomorrow for a semester abroad in the Czech Republic.
To be sure, they are members of the generation that travels more than any other — 35 days a year, says the travel technology company Expedia, which makes me a mother who has learned to say farewell in half-a-dozen languages.
But just because I’ve mastered the art of standing at the door blowing kisses in Swedish doesn’t mean I’ve mastered the emotions.
This is despite decades of practice, which began well before they knew how to even spell Travelocity, with the vacating of the womb.
This was followed by weaning, which was followed by letting go of hands outside kindergarten doors, which was followed by leaving the first one at camp for two weeks when he was 9, a decision I never would have instigated on my own, except my husband did it and he wanted his son to do it, too.
With each passing goodbye, I learned to outwardly express joy, even as maternal longing was hiding inside, accompanied by thoughts of building a longhouse in the backyard where everybody could live together forever. With each bon voyage, I’d say to myself, “This is the goodbye when I get over this.” Except each time I’d also say to myself, “This is the goodbye that is the hardest.”
This one coming up is in fact for real the hardest because he’s the youngest. There’s nobody left. Even the dog is dead. Not only that, but Benjie and I have been living together, just the two of us, all summer. We’ve gotten cohabitation down to a mother-son dance I’m not eager to forgo. When he bids me au revoir, I’ll be on my own in a four-bedroom home that used to house five humans, two cats, a dog, two fish and a bird or two when we could keep them alive.
Obviously, I have yet to morph into that consummate mom who is nothing but happy for her children as they individuate and discover their own lives.
It means I can at least predict my goodbye behavior, which will begin tomorrow with me standing at the security gate at the airport, waving with an oversized smiley face until I can’t see the top of his red head anymore. I’ll get in the car and put on Ben Folds’ “I Am the Luckiest” in case I haven’t cried enough, after which I’ll go home and make a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies. I will eat the entirety of the cookies while curled up in the fetal position watching “The Andy Griffith Show,” after which I will call my sister and moan about the culture we live in, where kids are constantly leaving and we’re so sad because we never know if they’re coming back.
At some point, I will straighten my skirt. I will stand up and marvel at how clean and quiet the house is. I’ll consider all the things I can do to fill the void — finish writing the book I started 15 years ago, step up my photography business, focus more on healthy lifestyle practices.
And then I’ll go to the calendar and start counting the days when the next child is coming home to say goodbye.
Seventeen hours out from waving him away at the airport, there’s nothing left to do but Google how to say farewell in Czech. That and the cookies, which I think I’ll get a head start on making — and possibly eating — now.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at email@example.com, or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.