Buried within the correspondence from politicians seeking donations and stores celebrating Labor Day sales, I spot an email from a friend and open it eagerly, hopeful for a distraction from my loneliness.

“Hey there,” begins the brief note. “Jack turns one in a couple of weeks and is almost walking. I can barely handle it. Are you OK with Russell starting college? xo Julie” 

It has been two weeks since I hugged Russell, watched him grow increasingly smaller in my rearview mirror as he stood outside his freshman dorm waving goodbye. My son is big and tall with just a bit of stubble on his chin, but he is also my baby, my toddler, my pre-teen, my boy. Russell is the second of my three sons, and although the tactical approach to college-start is easier than it was three years ago when I said goodbye to his brother Evan, it is no less painful. What’s different now is that I am without two boys instead of one, the home/away ratio forever shifted.

I read the email from Julie in our backyard, the one-time home to Russell’s sand shovels and dump trucks. What was once an ad hoc baseball diamond, mud bases, and a weedy infield, is now a pristine garden, the fruits of my newest hobby. I spent little time smelling the roses during the early years of parenting my boys. It was busy and exhausting. Yet, it is the excitement I remember, the beginningsI yearn to do it all over again. 

Today, my house is quiet. With just my husband and youngest son at home, the kitchen—once cramped, littered with toys, and years later, with big feet, as they stood by the fridge, always hungry—feels cavernous, the table, too large.

Although I once wished for blissful silence, now I miss the banter, the noise. 

Bathroom routines are no longer disrupted by bangs on the door. “Get out, I’m gonna be late!” Russell’s bed is neatly made, our little dog Otis nestled deep in his pillows. There are no books on his desk, no need to pick his sweatshirt off the floor. LEGOs, meticulously secured by his long-ago tiny fingers to resemble battleships and skyscrapers, stand dusty on Russell’s shelves, next to the Game of Thrones books he intended to read last summer. 

RELATED: He’s a Boy For Just a Little While Longer

Hanging from a hook on his wall are two baby-sized Nike sneakers. On a vacation in Florida, when the boys were still in single digits, his brothers picked out souvenir shirts, while 7-year-old Russell, always the planner, selected these shoes, as a future gift to his someday-son. “He’ll like them,” Russell smiled, as I stood in line, eager to purchase and get back to the beach.

Today, I cradle a sneaker in my palm, wish for the sound of thundering footsteps bouncing from room to room. 

Russell seemed to have been born walking. Barely older than a year, his boundless energy sent him on missions around the house as I sat on the couch, exhausted, baby brother DJ growing in my belly. “Whooohaaaa,” I heard little Russell pant from the top of the stairs as I hauled my weary body to the landing, just in time to be bombarded by the books he hurled from above. I watched his joy turn to disappointment as I admonished him. “Russell,” I said. “This is mischief. We don’t throw books.” 

He wept. Hoping to be applauded for his new mobility and creative use of literature, he was instead overcome with shame at my stern response. I took the steps two at a time to get to him, hold him, forgive him, sit together until the tears dried. 

RELATED: Mothering Boys is a Work of the Heart

Becoming independent is risky business, and my middle son has loved testing every limit. Books were thrown, walls scribbled upon. One quiet afternoon, as DJ napped and Evan played, 4-year-old Russell ripped every truck picture out of his brother’s favorite storybook, burying the contraband deep in his pockets. His smile made me forgive him again and again, in a boyhood full of skirmishes, middle school ding-dong-ditches, unsanctioned late-night high school pool parties. 

Tales of mischief have become family legend, stories we’ll retell again when Russell’s home on college break, or at Thanksgiving, Christmas breakfast, or a lazy summer afternoon, sharing a meal at our table that, for a minute at least, won’t seem nearly as large.   

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye. My heart hurts. But I’m happy, too, and excited.

Because 18 years of knowing Russell and having Russell, laughing with him until my sides hurt and disciplining him when all I wanted was to hold him tight, well, that gives me great confidence in our future together. As a mom and a son and, also, as friends. 

He will come home. For holidays and summers, at first, and then eventually, maybe just for visits. Russell will burst through the front door as a man, but I will see my baby, my toddler, my pre-teen, my boy. After the hugs and the greetings, the excited chatter of what’s new and what’s not, we will simply be together, where we started.

RELATED: My Son Is Not Mine To Keep

“Happy beginnings to you, Julie,” I write to my friend. “Thanks for reaching out. The college send-off was great and I am good. First steps are pretty amazing, right? Not just the shaky steps of Jack, but also Russell’s brave walk into the unknowns of college. Have an extra serving of cake for me.”

First steps are worth celebrating. I can’t wait for all that comes next.  

Postscript: What came next was a freshman year interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a spring break that lasted right through the summer. Together, my son and I have worried about sickness and have grown exasperated over an uncertain future. There have been fears over school cancellations and hopes for normalcy eventually returning. Although I’ve been blessed with five unplanned months of Russell, with long lazy days and deep conversations, I’m startled that it is already August. Right around the time Julie’s Jack turns two, Russell’s sophomore year will begin. College will be virtual, but the bond I share with my second son will continue in real-time. For that, I am forever thankful. 

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Maribeth Darwin

Maribeth Darwin is a freelance writer from Melrose, MA and the happy mom to three almost grown boys. She has published essays in BrainChild, BrainTeen Magazine, Grown and Flown, Entropy, Cognoscenti, and K'In Literary Journal. You can see links to all of her published work at her website www.evolutionarywriting.net. 

You Came between Us

In: Marriage, Motherhood
Toddler between mom and dad under sheet

Right in the middle of our deepest love, you came—just between us. A silent, unseen surprise. A mysterious miracle of incarnated love and joy. From that sacred moment that we couldn’t imagine being any sweeter, came you. Sometime in the middle of all the daily goodbye hugs, my stomach began to grow and you came between us. This beautiful bundle of life blossoming right inside of me. And we were in awe of every single tiny formation of you. In awe of who you were, excited by who you’d be, in awe that you were ours. You came between us...

Keep Reading

God Redeemed the Broken Parts of My Infertility Story

In: Faith, Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Two young children walking on a path near a pond, color photo

It was a Wednesday morning when I sat around a table with a group of mamas I had just recently met. My youngest daughter slept her morning nap in a carrier across my chest. Those of us in the group who held floppy babies swayed back and forth. The others had children in childcare or enrolled in preschool down the road. We were there to chat, learn, grow, and laugh. We were all mamas. But we were not all the same. I didn’t know one of the mom’s names, but I knew I wanted to get to know her because she...

Keep Reading

I’m a Mom Who Reads and is Raising Readers

In: Living, Motherhood
Mom with infant daughter on bed, reading a book, color photo

Since childhood, I’ve been lost in a world of books. My first true memory of falling in love with a book was when my mom read aloud Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. With each voice she used, I fell deep into the world of imagination, and I’ve never seemed to come up for air. My reading journey has ebbed and flowed as my life has gone through different seasons, but I’ve always seemed to carry a book with me wherever I went. When I entered motherhood and gave my whole life over to my kids, I needed something that...

Keep Reading

I Look Forward to the End of a Work Day for a Whole New Reason Now

In: Motherhood
Dad hugs toddler at home

Those minutes matter. Whether it’s 5 or 15, every single second of them counts. Unless you’ve been there, it’s impossible to explain. I’m not sure there are any words that could really create the right picture. But believe me when I say those minutes count. I’m talking about those final minutes leading up to that door opening and some form of relief being on the other side. Those minutes you never thought would come. Those minutes mean you made it through another day, and there is (possibly) some relief in sight. This is a new experience I wasn’t quite ready...

Keep Reading

I Had to Learn to Say “I’m Sorry” to My Kids

In: Kids, Motherhood, Teen, Tween
Mom hugs tween daughter

My two oldest kiddos are at the front end of their teen years. I remember that time in my own life. I was loud, somewhat dramatic, I let my hormones control me, and I never—ever—apologized. This last part was because no one ever really taught me the value of apology or relationship repair. Now, I could do some parent blaming here but let’s be real, if you were a kid whose formative years were scattered between the late ’80s and early ’90s, did you get apologies from your parents? If so, count that blessing! Most parents were still living with...

Keep Reading

I Didn’t Know How Much I Needed Other Mothers

In: Friendship, Living, Motherhood
Two mom friends smiling at each other

I read somewhere the other day that when a child is born, a parent is too. In my first few months being a mother, I’m learning just how odd that sentiment is. In an instant, I became someone new. Not only that, but I became part of a group I didn’t realize existed. That sounds wrong. Of course, mothers existed. But this community of mothers? I had no idea. It took us a long time to get where we are today. Throughout our journey with infertility, I knew in my heart I was meant to be a mother. I knew that...

Keep Reading

I Wasn’t Sure You’d Be Here To Hold

In: Baby, Motherhood
Mother with newborn baby on her chest in hospital bed

I stood naked in my parents’ bathroom. Even with the tub filling, I could hear my family chattering behind the door. I longed to be with them, not hiding alone with my seven-month round belly, sleep-deprived, and covered in pox-like marks. For three weeks, I’d tried Benadryl, lotions, and other suggested remedies to cure the strange rash spreading over my body. No luck. By Christmas Day, my life had been reduced to survival. Day and night, I tried to resist itching, but gave in, especially in my sleep. At 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m., the feeling of fire ants...

Keep Reading

5 Things Your Child’s Kindergarten Teacher Wants You To Know

In: Kids, Motherhood
Child raising hand in kindergarten class

I am a teacher. I have committed my life to teaching children. Of course, before I began this career, I had visions of standing in front of a group of eager-eyed children and elaborating on history, science, and math lessons. I couldn’t wait to see the “lightbulb” moments when students finally understood a reading passage or wrote their first paper. And then I had my first day. Children are not cut out of a textbook (shocking, I know) but as a young 23-year-old, it knocked me right off my feet. I was thrown into the lion’s den, better known as...

Keep Reading

God Has You

In: Faith, Motherhood
Woman hugging herself while looking to the side

Holding tight to the cold, sterile rail of the narrow, rollaway ER bed, I hovered helplessly over my oldest daughter. My anxious eyes bounced from her now steadying breaths to the varying lines and tones of the monitor overhead. Audible reminders of her life that may have just been spared. For 14 years, we’d been told anaphylaxis was possible if she ingested peanuts. But it wasn’t until this recent late autumn evening we would experience the fear and frenzy of our apparent new reality. My frantic heart hadn’t stopped racing from the very moment she struggled to catch a breath....

Keep Reading

To My Wife: I See Your Sacrifice

In: Marriage, Motherhood
Family of 3 sitting on floor together at home

Selfless. No other word more clearly depicts your commitment to your family. Motherhood is drastically different than you dreamed of your whole life—the dreams of what sort of mama you would be, of how much you would enjoy being a mother even on the tough days. Since day one of our relationship, you’ve been selfless. Since day one of being a mama, you’ve been selfless. Your love for your family shines through on the brightest and darkest days. But on the dark days, it shines the brightest. I can’t count the hours of sleep sacrificed, the tears cried, the time...

Keep Reading