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I thought we were prepared, but we weren’t. Not even close. Not in the tiniest, least little bit.

When we hugged our precious, oldest boy and left him to start college just a few hours away, we didn’t know what was coming. The waves of emotion, of loss, of pride, of accomplishment.

They say not to blink because your kids will grow up. But despite how much we may not want to, it’s involuntary. We have to blink. They don’t talk about this part. No one tells you what to do when you open your eyes again.

RELATED: I Blinked and You Went From Kindergarten to College

I’ve never been that mama who just wants to keep her boys little. I wanted to cherish every moment, but I didn’t feel sorrow over major milestones or count the hours during the school day. I wanted them to be independent, to put into practice the things we taught them.

I felt the blinking was simply part of the journey, and so I blinked. Over and over.

I tried to enjoy the phases we were in. I told myself it was a good thing they would one day leave. I questioned each day wondering if I’d done enough to prepare them for adulthoodall the while knowing I didn’tand felt chest pains at the thought that I could never teach them enough.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t light up like a Christmas tree to pick them up from the bus stop or open the door after work and get hugs before I could kick off my heels. It’s that with every new milestone, I got to see them develop into who they were meant to be.

We went from playing with cars on the floor for hours (and hours and hours) to completing hours of driving lessons. From teaching him words to hearing about his first crush. We saw toddler team sports turn into passions and became privileged enough to hear every sports statistic that has ever been in existence. These changes didn’t bring sorrow to my mama heart, they brought pure, unbridled, joy. And when I opened my eyes after each blink, I saw it. I lived it.

And I will never forget it.

When I hugged him tighter than I had before and looked into those dark brown eyes that look just like mine, 18 years flashed before my eyes. It was then I realized . . . they’re all still there. The moments when I opened my eyes, again and again, came rushing back in an instant.

RELATED: You See a Teenage Boy, I See My Baby and Every Moment In Between

I will never forget when he said “kitty kat” and “yellow” clear as day at nine months old. I will never forget when he was five and ran backwards across the football field, or when he was 15 and he anchored his swim team to come from behind. I will never forget graduating from Baby Gap to Old Navy to the first time we were full-on menswear shopping at Banana Republic for the homecoming dance. I will never forget when he shortened his name to a “stage name” in the program (to our surprise) and killed it in the spring play.

Because every time I opened my eyes, I got to see it. I got to see him.

Mamas, it’s hard. And it’s inevitable. But I’m here to tell you, don’t be afraid of closing your eyes. Blink a million times over and open them to a newer, older, version of the person your child will become. Never forget that you were able to be there. You were able to see it. And it’s not over. I’m so grateful for that view, only now it’s through binoculars.  

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Tara Fields

I am a wife to TJ, boy mom to Jackson, Porter, and Tripp. I'm a proud native Floridian and UF grad. I've been a SAHM, turned media sales executive, turned music teacher, turned real estate agent. I love to be around people, and I love new seasons of life. If you can't find me at the pool, a house showing, or a concert with my husband, I'm probably at a football game, because . . . #boymomlife. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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