Good-Bye

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.

About Melissa M

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

36 thoughts on “Good-Bye

  1. Hard not to get a lump in my throat just reading this. Time really does fly so fast. Each new school year reminds me of that fact. How can it be this time again? How can they be one year closer to leaving home? These are tender moments.

    I take comfort in the fact that even as the specifics of the role of mother changes over time, our children never will stop needing their mothers in some way. I see it even with women who are grandmothers themselves.

    But it’s still not the same as hearing them play their trumpets or whatever else every day. ;)

  2. I only have one child home with me now. It’s so strange. For a while I thought the solution would just be to have another baby. Not that I want to become Michelle Duggar or anything but I get where she’s coming from.

    Ultimately I decided that another baby is NOT the answer. I’ll just have to spend more time loving the babies I have since they’ll be gone before I know it.

  3. OH I had to take some deep breaths while reading this, Melissa. And what a killer line from your son, “Goodbye Mom, I’m going off to college now.” That one put me in immediate tears. I don’t think us Moms ever completely recover from our children leaving us.

  4. As your darling daughter’s primary teacher, I am thankful she gets to stay in my class until the new year — when I will shed tears as all my bright and adorable twelve-year-olds disappear… I remember sobbing as my first child graduated high school; as I looked towards the future, I couldn’t imagine that anything could be as cool as motherhood. But I was wrong. God has given me amazing and surprising and fun opportunities to grow and serve. But I felt your pain on Sunday…I remember it well…

  5. While my boy is 2 and I’m at the beginning of all of this, I feel all weepy just thinking of what that must be like. It’s like those commercials where the parents is talking to their teenager and all they can see is their little five-year old trying to be grown-up, but they realize at the end that they really are big now. Killer.

    I try to fool myself when I talk to my husband about what it will be like when the kids are all gone and it’s finally just us again (hopefully). I say things like we’ll go wherever we want at a moment’s notice! But in reality, I’ll be so sad and the only place we’ll really go without telling anybody is on a nice evening walk together or out to dinner.

    Excuse me, I need to go give a toddler a hug before he gets any bigger.

  6. I’m not sure how we can be excited to watch them grow, and feel like crying and screaming, “Nooooooo!” all at the same time. It happens somewhere in mid grade school where we’ve been excited to watch all their “grown-up” changes, and then we realize they are growing up. Sigh. I don’t know what to do except keep hanging on to and appreciating every single moment. :)

  7. I just had my second baby and unfortunately time seems to have come to a s reechoing halt. I’m not a big baby person so in some ways I just want time to speed up…but when i read your post I know I’ll feel the same way someday. I’ll wish for time to stop and wonder how it all went by so quickly.

  8. I’m weeping, and I’m 3 years away from my oldest going to college. But I KNOW that 3 years is nothing. He’s in high school now (that thought alone gives me nightmares), and my baby is in senior primary. No more Nursery or Jr. Primary. We’re about to have our program for the year, and my second-to-last realized it’ll be her last one.

    I’m going to be a basket case when my son actually leaves for college.

  9. But you know what Annette? As hard as it is when they walk out, and as much as you sometimes wish you could bring back their childhoods….I soon realized, hey, there are many perks to be empty nesters. We love it!

  10. I’ve never commented before because I’m not very eloquent with my words – I just enjoy reading others thoughts and words.

    This article touched my heart. As an “empty nest” mother I see where you’re coming from. I have learned from experiences in my life though. When my youngest son went on his mission – oh how I grieved. Then he had to come home because he was very ill. While he was back home and living with us I remember the heart ache and wondered/worried if he would ever be well enough to live on his own and being afraid he wouldn’t be able to. I wanted him to have his “own” life and experiences. Thanks to Heavenly Father he did get well and is now happily married and living his “own” life. I’m glad I had that experience – it taught me that we want our children to grow up and be on their own and have their own lives. It’s part of the plan.

    As lonely and boring as my house can be at times now – I must admit that on Sunday evening when all the little grandkids go back to their homes with their parents and my sweetheart and I can relax and enjoy each other. I’m ok with that. I guess because I know I’ll see them all again soon. If I couldn’t see them all the time – I’m sure I wouldn’t like it.
    Life passes quickly. It’s full of pleaure and pain. Life is good.

    And there is a time and season for everything. I hope I’ll always be able to enjoy each season.

  11. My youngest had his first day of preschool today, and I feel just a little bit of what it will be when he goes to kindergarten, and then first grade, and so on. It’s so bittersweet. Mothering is constantly changing, and just when we think we’re settling in to one stage, we have to move to the next. This was a sweet post, Melissa. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy the little things (like fighting my kids to practice. I’ll miss that one day, right?)

  12. Isn’t it amazing that they are getting older so quickly, when we don’t really feel our own aging?

    I realized that children don’t really come back home when my brothers and sisters returned from their missions and weren’t ever really “back home.” So I was a little more prepared when my daughters came back from their missions and didn’t come “back home” either.

    The scary thing to me is the thought of my grandkids living so far away from me that I won’t be able to get to know them. So far, that isn’t happening, but it could. Some day.

    It’s always something, isn’t it?–something to fear about the future, but also something to enjoy in the meantime.

  13. Sniff, sob, where are those tissues?

    My boy leaves for BYU tomorrow. We’ve been chatting and packing all day– he is so completely pleasant and wonderful.

    And I can scarcely imagine the dinner table tomorrow night without him.

  14. Thank you, all of you, for your kind comments. You brought me comfort today. You young mothers who commented, I know it’s a cliche, but the time really does fly by—enjoy those babies! And you older, empty-nester moms, you give me hope that I have new, fulfilling experiences to look forward to (and I’m so glad you decided to comment, Jill Allred, and hope you will comment here at Segullah again!). And you moms who are in this stage with me, big group hug. We’ll get through this somehow.

  15. I remember being awed and overwhelmed (and teary) when my oldest started school. My youngest starts 1st grade in 2 weeks and I am jumping for joy! I am at that point (my oldest is a junior) that I just pray he actually makes it into college and on a mission! Is there any relief out there that they’ve actually made it?

  16. And I can scarcely imagine the dinner table tomorrow night without him.

    OK, for whatever reason, that hit me hard.

    Tugs and pulls at the heartstrings.

    And yet there must be such a full heart, too, at having these children who are ready to fly. As someone said, it is the plan to prepare them to leave the nest, as it were.

    What a roller coaster of emotions, though.

  17. Wow, I can’t stop crying after reading this. My oldest just started middle school and now rides his bike to school with friends (cell phone in pack in case he needs me). My baby is about to get weaned. It has hit me forcefully how short this time I have with them is. Only 8 years until my first one leaves for college. There are so many experiences I want to have as a family before then, and life (depression, unemployment) has been getting in the way. I am learning to truly, truly savor each moment and find joy in the now because I can finally see how quickly it is all slipping by.

  18. As I read the last line I could hear rounds of “If you’ll miss him and you know it, wave goodbye!” Tears, and my oldest two just started middle school. Who knew I’d miss those toddler years sooo much!
    Another baby sounds good right now!

  19. I’m on the teetering cusp, too. I have a senior in high school who is very eagerly studying for her SATs/ACT now that she’s finally decided she wants to go to a university FAR, FAR away (sob!) and another daughter who is a Freshman. I suddenly find myself no longer the taxi mom, no longer able to be the first one to be told about the school drama and their concerns and hopes. I try to be upbeat and encouraging as they talk (with excitement) about their adventures when they move out, but part of me wants to tether them to their bedframes when they’re asleep!

  20. I am rubbish at letting go and watching them move on. Every September I cry as they start a new school year. I have only one left at primary school now, and it is his last year. I miss having little ones so much. I loathe the fact that change is out of my control, I can’t slow it down or stop it. If I could do anything I would rewind to when they were all under fives and live those busy, cuddly years over again. I am certainly not ready for the teenage years we have entered.

  21. My oldest will turn 12 and leave Primary next year, so I’m not quite at your stage yet, but this touched me. They do grow up and go away, and I love how proud you are of your children. It sounds like they’ve been making some wonderful choices. Good job!

  22. Ack! My oldest is 13 but this post made me cry. I’m ready but not ready for the kids to get older.

  23. Cristie, your comment was especially poignant. I haven’t really thought about what it will be like that first fall after all my kids have left home—brutal!

    Meggle, yes, there’s definitely a sense of relief as your children move on successfully to the next stage of their life. But I’ve been surprised to find that (so far for me, at least) I haven’t had that “Whew! They’ve made it” feeling (and I’m wondering when that comes)—you still worry, sometimes even more so than when they were younger, because their lives are much more complex as young adults, and the decisions they make at this age are so important and far-reaching, yet you have much less influence and control. It’s not the way I thought it would be. But yes, I am glad my son is off to college and preparing for his mission—definitely something to be grateful for.

    Kay, I, too, sometimes wish I could rewind and go back to when my children were under five—I didn’t fully appreciate it when I was in the thick of it. I’d love to learn how to be more present in the moment, like Stephanie2 is trying to do. I know that one day I’ll look back on the stage I am in now and wish I could revisit it, so I’d better make the most of it now!

  24. Heavenly Father is certainly a God of second chances – not only in the sense of repentance but also the sacred experience of mothering. And that is through grandparenting. There is a depth of love in those relationships that defies description. I can’t begin to describe how crazy I have always been about my cildren- even through heart wrenching experiences. But oh this grandparenting – what exquisite joy has come into my life with them. Heavenly Father absolutely fills the empty spaces in our hearts when our children leave. (think about the kind of adults they’d be if they never left. It’s the experiences WITHOUT us that turns them into what Father intends them to be. We have to hold onto our hearts and let go – and then at a later time, Father fills our hearts to overflowing with those sweet, sweet grandbabies – a whole née dimension of love.

  25. It all moves me…

    It’s such a bittersweet blessing when they grow up and leave us. And you’re right, they never do come home again, not in the same way.

    Thankfully, the new way is still pretty good…and all of my grown children will travel here for Labor Day this weekend. The separations do make the reunions all the brighter.

    =)

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