We hugged, swiped a kiss and exchanged “I love you.” She hopped into her car, flashed a cheesy grin and waved at me with open-palmed gusto, like she did when she was seven. And then I watched her back out of the driveway and speed down the country road, headed to the big city and college life once again. She joins her older brother, who left the day before.
This leaving-for-college thing is never a smooth transition. It is a bumpy one, fraught with last-minute laundry and trips to Walmart for supplies, and overflowing boxes and second-hand furniture in the middle of the living room. When the run-up to a major change is filled with all this plus teeth-cleaning and haircut appointments, and getting prescriptions filled and oil changed, it feels too herky-jerky to me. There’s no time to just sit down, take a breath and do what I do best: watch my children.
I wonder if my kids will ever realize that my favorite hobby is, and always has been, simply observing them. I stared for great stretches at a time into their chubby-cheeked faces when they were babies, wondering what they were thinking. I watched them play every day, fascinated by the discovery and learning process they went through. As they grew, I watched them interact with their friends, gazed in awe when they mastered sports and marveled as they developed sunny, unique personalities. And when they were teenagers, I again often stared into their faces, wondering what in the world they were thinking.
I caught myself watching them a lot this summer, knowing that it was likely the last summer the four of us would be together on a regular basis. I noticed a shimmer of red whiskers in my son’s short beard, a testament to his dad’s genes. I saw my daughter’s eyes light up as she talked about the little ones she got to know at the daycare where she worked while on break. I liked watching her make plans for a new apartment with her roommates and watching him intently read a news article on his smartphone. When I booked a photographer to help slow the hands of time this summer, she artfully caught a true candid of them together—my daughter showing lively emotion, as is her nature, and my son displaying quiet curiosity, as is his nature. I was watching them at that moment, too.
This week I watched them leave home, amid baskets and boxes and piles of their possessions, the excitement of a new school year registering on their faces. My heart was filled with pride and delight and a pinch of bittersweet-ness. The days suddenly stretched before me, void of my children’s presence and the ability to watch them whenever I wish. But as I turned and opened the door to an empty house with a mother’s tears in my eyes, I reminded myself of the simple truth: they were doing exactly what they should be doing now—becoming capable, independent, compassionate adults. And I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing—watching them go about doing that.