It is well past bedtime as I watch you snuggle into your little bed with your impressive collection of blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals.

You ask me again how many sleeps remain until your first day of camp, and I confirm that number to be three.

We begin your bedtime ritual of reenacting that scene from your favorite show—the one where the mom says, “But always remember, I’m here if you need me.”

I am struck by a thought: In two short days, I will be preparing to drop you off at camp for the very first time. It is all too easy to look into the future from that vantage point—summer camp, then pre-school, kindergarten, and, before I know it, the rest of your life. 

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I realize our days here at home together—of letting you awaken naturally each day and nap for as long as you like; of choosing in the morning to take off for the park, for the library, for the museum, or the store, or an impromptu playdate—are numbered at best.

It is unimportant that you have not napped for over a year or that you seldom choose your own wake-up time in the mornings now that you share your bedroom with your early-rising little brother.

I mourn the loss of those times now more than ever before.

I miss our laid-back mornings and our 7 a.m. walks to the park from the tiny apartment you will never remember. I miss all the days and nights spent alone together as your father worked whichever shift was required of him to support our little family of three. I miss our trips to the grocery store when it was just you and me, and how I used to feed you snacks as we wound our way up and down the aisles to keep you occupied and quiet. I miss the times your tiny, warm form napped on my body in a pinch.

I will still have some of these experiences with your brother. I will get to enjoy time alone with him like I never have before, but you are my first baby. You have raised me to be a parent as much as I’ve raised you.

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Soon, it will be drop-off times and pick-up lines, schedules and sports, playdates and birthday parties and friends all your own.

Soon, you will have a life that is separate from me, and your independence, ever budding since the day you were born, will truly bloom.

I feel so many things as I reflect on this. I feel hope and pride, curiosity, nostalgia, and sadness.

I wait to cry until after I’ve stepped out of your room and closed the door as quietly as it will allow.

I cannot begin to explain to you all what this exciting next chapter in your life means to me. 

All I can do is stroke your hair as I prepare to leave and say my line: ”You do your best, but always remember I’m here if you need me.”

Patricia Bernstein

Patricia Bernstein is a stay-at-home mom and a part-time mental health counselor in private practice. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two children, and two cats.