Two days ago I sat in Primary and watched as my youngest child—my baby—received her Faith in God Award and stood at the front of the room, smiling, braces flashing, as the other Primary children sang, “If you’ll miss her and you know it, wave good-bye. If you’ll miss her and you know it, wave good-bye. If you’ll miss her and you know it, then your face will surely show it [here they all pretended to wipe their eyes, as if they were crying]. If you’ll miss her and you know it, wave good-bye.”
She just turned twelve last Thursday. In fact, today she starts junior high and my next-youngest child—my blond-haired boy who just yesterday, I swear, was starting kindergarten—starts high school. I still can’t figure out how we got here: one minute I was nursing newborns and changing diapers and watching wispy-haired one-year-olds take their first steps; the next I’m sending lanky adolescents out the door to junior high and high school. Even more unfathomable to me is that this past Sunday morning—the same day that my youngest graduated from Primary—my second-born, my eighteen-year-old son, had his final pre-mission interview with the stake president (his final pre-mission interview!) and moved into his freshman dorm on Sunday night. He’s off to BYU for a semester before leaving on a mission, hopefully right after the Christmas holidays.
My son is right where I want him to be at this stage of his life, and I couldn’t be prouder of the fine young man he has grown up to be. And he’s eager for this next phase of his life to begin: on Saturday, when he was packing up his clothes and books and dishes and bedding and loading everything into the car, he strode through the house, whistling, all smiles and cheerful confidence. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yet, these past few nights I’ve found myself stopping at the top of the stairs and staring at his empty bed, my throat tight. I already miss the sound of him practicing his trumpet, and the way he stoops down to hug me goodnight. And though my son assured me, on his last night at home, “I’ll just be five minutes away,” having already sent a daughter off to college—who will be going to graduate school next fall—I know that though he’ll be back on weekends and holidays and drop by for the occasional dinner or to do his laundry, he’ll never really come home again.
But up until last Sunday I hadn’t had time to think about it. These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of back-to-school preparations and pre-mission doctor visits and other appointments and shopping for dorm supplies and putting together a recipe book for my son and overseeing my daughter’s birthday celebrations. I’ve been so busy that I’ve only given my son’s leaving a few cursory thoughts at night after dropping into bed, exhausted, when I’ve fretted over where he might be sent on his mission, or worried that he won’t separate his whites from his colors when he does his laundry.
But on Sunday, as I watched my daughter receive her Faith in God Award and noticed that she is now almost as tall as the Primary president (granted, the Primary president is short, but still), I realized—really realized—that for the very first time in nearly twenty years I will no longer have any children in Primary. My baby is twelve. My son is off to college and will be on his mission in four short months. And as the children sang, “If you’ll miss her and you know it, wave good-bye” and we all waved, I suddenly found myself weeping, wiping my eyes for real. And on Sunday night after I went to bed, I wept again.
When my son left for his dorm Sunday night he smiled as he hugged me and said, “Bye Mom, I’m going off to college now.”
I smiled as I watched him go, my heart in my throat. And inwardly I waved good-bye.