“Really, mom? It’s not like it’s the first time I’m leaving. Isn’t it easier now than it was last year?”

That question came up as we talked about your move…six days and counting, now. You’d think it would be old hat by now, wouldn’t you, son? I love that you apply your stoic logic to matters of the mama heart, and if I remove myself for a second and look at it through clearer eyes, I can agree with you and see how silly I must look, my nose turning Rudolph red as my new companion, called ‘the ugly cry,’ crashes our party again.

So I’ll answer your question as best I can, and pretend to not see you roll your eyes as I explain that you really won’t get much of this until your very own offspring fly the coop.

The answer is yes, of course, but no, not really.

Yes, it’s easier logistically. We’ve already bought your stuff. You’re adept at packing up what you need, you’ve learned how to navigate the jumble of move-in appointments and orientation packets and new student profile computer logins.

I know you can juggle the class times and homework and labs and papers that come with college. I know that you are confident walking into a new library and knowing what to do, that you have no problem eating every meal in a cafeteria and that you know exactly why you must wear them in the cesspools most dorms call showers.

I know you’ll be fine. I know I’ll be fine. I know you’ll call, that you’ll come home some holidays and that you’re right where you should be.

And this is where the no comes in, because where you should be is away from home. And where you should be for the rest of your life will continue to be away from home. You are so bright, so focused and so ready for this part of your life and please believe me when I say I’m so excited for you.

I remember what it’s like, to have the world at your feet. I remember what it’s like to move to a new place, a place you’ve never even visited before, and call it your own. I remember what it’s like to figure out who you are and what matters to you without the voices of those who’ve raised you constantly in your ears.

All of that is beyond wonderful. Truly, it is.

But the no comes in knowing that each year you go, you’re closer and closer to always being gone. That’s the bittersweet edge of so many parts of life, of parenting, that you’ll understand more clearly one day when you’re standing in my socks. What makes me insanely proud—that your future is bright, that you’re on your way to building a life that you’ll live on your own—is the same thing that means that while you’ll always and forever be my guy, you’ll also not be around nearly as much.

No is knowing that you’re six states away, instead of a four hour drive. No is in the fact that there will be no grandparents there to catch you if you fall, that there’s no family there to welcome you if you’re feeling down. No is in the transition of being the mom of a high school kid (which you technically were, both years you were gone) and now being the mom of a true college guy.

What seems to you like a practical matter–moving stuff from one place to another–is more to me. Instead of walking past your room and seeing an empty desk, I’ll walk past your room and feel a twinge in that tiny, empty space of my mama heart. I’ll find something else to fill the empty spots in my day, and I’ll replace our cookies and Colbert times with other things. Life will go on, with each of us right where we should be.

But until the shine wears off this new (again) normal, my mama heart will still sometimes get the better of me and my ugly cry will come and go, and I’ll continue to answer your question with yes, and no.

proud mama