Share this article

print logo

Bringing Up Mommy by Debra-Lynn B. Hook: When the last child goes to college

I’m not sure which version of me is going to show up as my last child leaves for college.

It could be the well-adjusted me – the reasoned me who has launched kids twice before, who looks forward to helping her last child move up and out; the forward-thinking me who can’t wait to see what her youngest child will do with his future; who is excited to develop a new relationship with her newly adult son once he’s on his own.

It could also be the simpy, sappy, drippy me.

This is the me who goes weak in the knees – and shamefully jealous – every time a Facebook friend posts a picture of her little boy with his shiny new backpack and the words, “I can’t believe he’s in second grade already!” This is the me who wishes she were Laura Ingalls Wilder; her kids were John Boy, Mary Ellen and Jim Bob; none of us would ever leave Walton’s Mountain; and who cares if I’m mixing eras, fantasy is fantasy. This is the Mommy-shadow-side me, some version of a sloppy, effusive helicopter hoverer who struggles with knowing when enough is enough.

And I’m not so sure I won’t be seeing some of her this week.

Let’s just say there’s a storm brewing in the West. This storm is the last of my three children leaving home. And I don’t know whether it’s going to manifest as a hurricane inside my soul or a gentle shower that will pass quickly, leaving behind sunshine and blue skies like a day at the park with Barney.

My guts could rip open when I wave goodbye to Benjie. Or I could remain fully intact, self-satisfied with my son’s accomplishments and mine, looking forward to having more time on my hands to develop mind, body, spirit and arms like Michelle Obama’s.

When I am the best version of myself, when I’m minding my therapy appointments, my digestive enzymes and my yoga breath, I am a competent mother and an integrated woman with a healthy tummy. I am a strong and self-possessed contender who can run with the wolves – or at least the millipedes, like the one I encountered in the cabin where I went by myself for a week recently.

On the eve of being stripped of my “Mommy” title, I did indeed take to the woods, Thoreau-like, to a remote, rustic cabin 450 miles from home, where I pumped my own water and came to grips with silence, not to mention a flying wood roach, a cricket, a spider, a mouse and a millipede.

All but the millipede found their way out of the cabin of their own accord.

As for the four-inch creepy crawler I found near the fireplace, I put a branch in front of him to climb onto so I could move him outside without touching him. I left the room for a few minutes. When I came back, I found Mr. Millipede attempting to walk the length of the branch to get around it, instead of climbing on top and over.

“You’re making a mistake, little guy,” I told him.

So it could be with me at this time.

I could have a thousand feet and antennae on my head and still misstep.

I could be the most level-headed millipede on the planet. But I could also find myself maneuvering a helicopter this week – hovering over textbook orders, class schedules, dorm supplies, and is he ever going to ask his new roommates which of them is bringing the cutting board?

I could be the most progressive advocate, booster and cheerleader for my children and their growing independence. But I might also this week, in particular, wax nostalgic, tear up, ask for a lot of hugs and tell Benjie a kazillion times he can come home any time he wants.

No matter what else happens, no matter which version of me shows itself, I know a few things that will and will not happen: My last child will move away from home. I will look him in the eyes and tell him how utterly confident and proud I am of him. He will not change his mind. I will not throw myself on the floor and cling to his ankles as he walks away from me.

Short of that, whatever else I do – given my proven record of two successful launches – my behaviors are preapproved.

Walton’s Mountain. I wish we could all live there forever.