Yesterday was my son’s last day of his junior year in high school. This summer will be one of the hardest of my life, as I prepare for his last first day of school. I hope to use the time as a sort of buffer to the inevitable reality that he is almost an adult. That my job as his parent now is to hope I raised him with the skills and knowledge he’ll need to survive this world on his own.

Because senior year is happening, whether I’m ready or not and it only ends with my baby leaving.

As I walk through the house, I can’t imagine a time when his bedroom will be empty, devoid of his messy, smelly clothes scattered across the floor. I know that, no matter how weak I may feel on the inside, it’s my duty to at least appear strong for him. I must try hard not to “spread the dread”. But I think he feels the transition on the horizon. Just as he did the day I dropped him off at his first day of kindergarten. After being as close as my own shadow the first five years of his life, I thought—or maybe it was hoped—that he’d feel as empty without me as I felt without him. But it didn’t happen that way.

For the first five years of his life, it felt as if we were somehow two separate souls, sharing and operating one body, one life. I needed him as much as he needed me. As a young mom, I was still growing and maturing myself, when he came along. So we did it together, he raised me as much as I raised him. But, he wasn’t like me, he was different from the start. Where I was content with my own company, he wanted a crowd. He was social, with charisma and a bright, infectious spirit. So he fit right in at school and excelled, while I got used to the tears. Tears that eventually dried, until now.

For the past 17 years I have been teaching him how to be ready for the day he’ll have to let go of my hand; funny that now I find that I’m the one struggling with it, not him. While trying to prepare him, I forgot to prepare myself. But I know that it’s his time now. To figure out who he is, who he wants to be.

And time for me to let go.

I think as parents, we struggle most with letting go. The fear, the worry, the doubt that we feel when that time comes, can only be understood by those who have experienced it. Did I do the best I could? Did I teach him all the things he needs to know? Did I do a good job of preparing him for the real world? I know that the world that I created and prepared myself for at his age did not exist. For me, the world—life—was a slap in the face.

My transformation from dependent, from childhood into adulthood, was probably one of the most trying experiences of my life. It wasn’t just the adjustment itself, which is hard enough as it is; it was the fact that I became a mom myself during that time. But I wouldn’t change a thing, not a decision, not a mistake and not an experience. It was during the end of that challenge that I realized how strong I was, how determined I was to achieve what seemed so unachievable to me then.

It’s when I realized that I was not just a mom, I was a mother. And there was nothing that could ever break or weaken that strength, that determination.

That was, until high school graduation came along. The only thing in the world that I can’t stop, that I can’t defeat to protect my child; the only thing in the world that I didn’t prepare for. It’s extremely difficult for a mom, a mother, to be told that she’s no longer required, nor is she needed, to walk by her child’s side. It’s hard to accept the fact that we, as moms, have to step aside to watch our children fail, watch them fall, and not be able to help them succeed, to help them stand.

For those of you out there who are confident in your duties as parents, who are ready to send your children into adulthood—I envy you. Because I am not. And to the others out there like me, who are struggling just as I am, you’re not alone. We’ll have to be there for one another, to remind each other no matter how far our children get from us, we will always be their mothers, and that’s something no one, not even time, can take away from us.

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Tabitha Milam

Tabitha Milam-Fisher is an experienced Columnists with a demonstrated history in the writing and editing industry. She writes a reoccurring nonfiction column in the newspaper, and writes for The Horror Tree magazine.