It happened before I blinked. My 22-year-old son, Jason, was at the security checkpoint at the Buffalo Niagara Airport. While going through the line, he was pulled over and inspected. His legs and arms extended as the person on watch verified there wasn't anything illegal. Seconds later, he was cleared and set to travel.
I felt proud and I felt sick. I also felt anxious, though my wave and smile betrayed my real emotions. He was going where his heart led him, back to South Africa. Back to volunteering with the children at the Amasango School and Eluxoweni Shelter for homeless kids in that African nation.
The kids he's trying to rehabilitate have not taken a knife to him as yet, only to each other. Yet there I stood feeling nervous, afraid and anxious. I wondered what the other parents were thinking as they bid goodbye to their loved one.
Nostalgia hit me. After I gave birth, many of my friends told me, "You'll blink and he'll be gone." During sleepless nights, I wished for that flash to happen quickly. How do you stop a baby from crying? Rocking back and forth, back and forth, only led to more crying. I'd watch the second hand sweep away my time of dreams, knowing that when the alarm went off I had to be alert to start my day.
I have so many things that I would have done differently, but I can't go back. Why didn't I stay and push him on the swing "just one more time"? When we heard the melody of the ice cream truck coming our way, why did I have to say no to his request for a chocolate ice cream with sprinkles? I wonder if he remembers? I know I do.
Before I knew it, the big day arrived: Catching the bus for the first day of kindergarten. My husband and I stood there biting our lips as our son lifted his long leg up to the first deep step, turned around and waved. When he didn't return from school, we were in a panic and made several frantic phone calls.
Suddenly we heard a beeping horn and then saw a slow-moving yellow school bus backing up. The door creaked open. Tipping his head, the bus driver told us, "I asked: Where's the little guy that gets off at this stop?"
With his head down, and little eye contact, our calm son muttered, "Dad calls me the big guy. I'm a big guy, not a little one." Oh, how important our words are.
His high school years were a blur. He went from a shy, quiet person to an extrovert. I still don't know where he got those genes.
After he attended college and applied for his first job, I asked, "Were you nervous during the interview?"
I liked his response: "Mom, the only difference between me and them is they are sitting in comfortable chairs."
And they have a job, I thought to myself, but I did not share that.
Standing at the airstrip, watching my child leave with two suitcases, a carry-on and his computer, I realized I had joined the crowd that has watched their offspring go to college, to war or to a job. I turned to my husband and said, "I guess we did it. We gave him wings." Why do I want to clip them, I thought to myself.
Now my mind brings me to the present, and to the realization that I know I have to let go. To all of the parents who have stood at the airport watching their child wave goodbye, I salute you.
To all of you new parents, be careful what you say. Your actions matter. So do your words. And don't blink.
Joanna Montagna Torreano, of Lockport, found it hard to say goodbye as her son left for South Africa.