In 20 days, my youngest daughter, Sara Ann, leaves for college. It’s the most significant life change since I first became a mother in 1988. I’ve been counting down the days, not to be morbid, but because it’s easier for me to process if I’m aware of what is happening.
We spent this past weekend at my family’s lake house on Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas — the setting for some of the best times of our lives. It was our last lake weekend before The Empty Nest and my first inclination was, don’t think think about the fact that it is the last, just enjoy the time.
Except … while thinking about it certainly brings tears, do I really want to look back on these days and remember nothing special about them? No — I want to savor every moment; I want to be fully there. Tears are a small price to pay for the memory of:
- The last dinner at the table at the lake. Steak, baked potatoes, garlic bread and peach cobbler. A nice bottle of Cabernet.
- The last day on the lake. An idyllic sunny day with a pleasant breeze, screams of joy on the inner tube and time to relax and enjoy the clear water and unspoiled beauty of the foothills of the Ozarks.
- The drawer. As we packed to leave, she showed me “her drawer” in the master bedroom. I hadn’t known about this drawer. It contains things she has kept there since she’s been old enough to open a drawer. Books, markers, hair clips, coloring books, rubber bands, some small toys, pencils. Little girl things, not college girl things.
The drawer took me back to a time when college would happen someday, not in 20 days; when many more dinners, sunny days, skinned knees, broken bones and broken hearts lie ahead.
I’ve never believed that to display emotion is to show weakness, that it’s necessary to deny what we feel in order to be strong. In my experience, it requires more strength to face that which is painful; to walk through rather than try to walk around and pretend to be unaffected.
So in 20 days, when I leave my youngest three hours away in Conway, Arkansas, I will feel it. I won’t distract myself with busyness, or try to take my mind to a happy place. I’ll curl up in a ball and cry if I need to and I’ll remember every thought, every feeling, every moment. And I know there will be a time when it hurts just a little less.
But for now, I’m going to count down the last 20 days and treasure each one. Even if it costs me a tear or two.