Early morning sunshine glinted through the windows, announcing another beautiful, hot summer day. I woke up and gritted my teeth in preparation. Although I had imagined it would be difficult, I had no idea the impact would brand my soul forever after. I went to make sure he was awake, but he was already dressed and overflowing with his own nerves. My oldest was 18-years-old and it was late July after his graduation from high school. Today was the day he was to leave home… for good. He was always welcome back, but this leave from home is unlike any other. He was leaving for boot camp.
I made the last breakfast I ever would for my child. I didn’t understand at the time that this was the end of him being MY child under my roof. Sure, he would come home for visits but he would be returning as my adult child. There is a huge difference, I would later learn.
I made sure he had everything he needed which filled a small drawstring bag, so it wasn’t much. We both double and then triple checked the packing list he was given. He glanced around the house, storing memories to get him through the next couple months and said goodbye to his younger brothers and sister. We loaded up in the car for a short drive to the recruiter’s office. It was just him and me, since my husband, his step-dad, was already deployed halfway across the world.
Saying goodbye was something I had practiced multiple times. I sent my husband off to three deployments. We had to spend over two years living on separate sides of the country while he geo-bached when he wasn’t deployed, so I had said painful goodbyes. I knew the agony of feeling your heart rip through your chest and the burn of tears at the most inopportune times. I thought I was a pro. I was wrong.
It was a quiet drive to the recruiter’s office. My son had moments where he was not very talkative and I could be that way as well, so this wasn’t completely unnatural. What was unnatural was the threat of tears in both of our eyes. As a mother, each of your children hold a special place in your heart. Talon was the oldest and I was only 20-years-old when I became his mom. I thought I was very mature at the time, but looking back now, I was such a baby in so many ways. We basically grew up together and the years separating us seemed less and less the older he got.
I was looking forward to him taking this next step in his new, adult life. I was brimming with pride for his decision to take the selfless step to protect our great country. He had a plan for the next step in his life and we all had been preparing for this for almost a year. He had also done his best to make saying goodbye a little easier by being somewhat difficult to live with. I always joked I would have cried harder had he not chosen this route.
There weren’t many jokes when we pulled up. The tears were brimming in his eyes, and I was doing my best to hold it together. Usually I can get through the goodbyes dry-eyed, and I knew I needed to do that for him this time especially. We hugged in the car and I told him for about the millionth time how proud I was of him. He promised he would give me the call that he made it before having to turn his phone in and I watched him walk into the office, my child no more.
I didn’t make it out of the parking lot before the sobs started. I had learned through the other goodbyes that letting the tears come instead of fighting to keep them in was usually the best route. So I let them. They show up more often nowadays which I find irritating since I pride myself on being tough.
What I also didn’t expect on this leg of my journey as a mom was the mixed feelings of loss and pride all balled up in a jumble of emotions. He makes me so proud my heart equally aches from wanting to tell every passing stranger about his accomplishments, but also from being across the country on birthdays, holidays and just those days when I want to rush to his aid because I’m his mom. As he continues on his journey, I’m sure my crazy “momming” will just embarrass him more and more but I’m okay with that. I strive to keep it in check and “play it cool” but I also want him to know I’ll always be there for him, no matter how well he does this adulting thing.
What hits even closer to home is that I’m about to do this all over again in six months. His younger brother will be graduating from high school to go to the Air Force and continue our family’s military tradition. Then I get to say goodbye to another of my babies. They say practice makes perfect, but in this case, I don’t think they asked a mom.
This piece originally appeared at www.tiffanypicotte.com