Before my eight-year-old daughter would leave for her dad’s house every other weekend, I would kiss the palm of her small hand, curl her fingers into a fist, and tell her to put the kiss on her cheek when she missed me.
What I didn’t realize was that she tried keeping her hand closed all weekend so she wouldn’t drop the kiss I had laid across the faint lines fate was supposedly writing.
I kissed her palm 11 years later when I dropped her off in Florida for three months of missions training and two months of overseas travel.
I cried for weeks beforehand, and I bawled for weeks after. I mean major ugly crying.
Before she boarded a plane for the African desert, I flew to FL for a visit. How could I not take one more opportunity to hug her and warn her about parasites and terrorists? Our visit was short but lovely. I did fine, just fine…until I drove to the airport for my flight home and exploded into tears. Unfortunately for the rental car company, I was also chewing an apple at the time.
After my daughter eventually returned home, she completed a year of college online. I relished her presence. But she has a wanderer’s heart. She reminded me several times that her trip was just the beginning of all the “leaving” she would be doing.
I had every intention of kissing her palm when I dropped her off at college this month, her first living on campus. But I forgot. I was busy helping her hang up her clothes and making ugly sad faces as she walked away with her new friends.
But this goodbye wasn’t as painful as the other. My goodbye muscles were stronger, my mommy skin thicker. I was like, “Is that all you’ve got, world?” (Then added, “Just kidding.”)
And in my melancholy moments, my elder daughter gives me a creepy look and whispers, “I’ll never leave you, Mommy”…which is why I will never buy a house with a basement.
A lot of my friends dropped kids off at college for the first time, too. One dear friend was struggling with saying goodbye to her only child, but I don’t think I served as a competent commiserator. Because, for me, this time was so much easier. Because my perspective allowed me to see beyond the empty bed that is never unmade.
In our Facebook group, Moms Losing Their Children to the Maw of Higher Education, I worried that I came off as too practical–I gave advice about packing light. And insensitive–I shared a video of a mother getting dragged down the road in a laundry basket while she clutched the bumper of her son’s car as he drove off to college.
It’s not just college moms (and dads) saying goodbye. A lot of people (not the ones posting photos of cracking open the bubble bath and champagne) are lamenting the start of all-day Kindergarten. I cried that day, too, many years ago. My son marched into the classroom and never glanced back at the Woman Who Gave Him Life.
The Kindergarten/College Mom emotions are so similar. But the depth of the pain seems commensurate with how tall your kid is. I mean, they may not be as cute as when they were 5, but they’ve been around a lot longer by the time they’re ready for college.
As I reminisced about that kiss on my little girl’s palm, I thought, That’s what we’re doing, clutching our children in a trembling fist, afraid if we uncurl our fingers, they will slip out of our grasp.
But we misunderstand, the way my daughter did when she was young and afraid. The love we and our children share isn’t secured by the strength of our grip.
Their futures are not drawn into the palms of their hands but rather held in the hand of God.
And no matter how painful our goodbyes, our children carry our love with them everywhere they go.