I still smell my son’s head.

He is 18 and witty and a homebody and his hair always smells like, well, him. He is mostly always parked in his computer chair in front of a computer he built himself while he practices a game called Rocket League that, much to our surprise, has landed him a college scholarship.

I actively try not to think about him starting college in the fall.

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I look into his slate blue eyes that have not dulled a bit since childhood. I am instantly transported back in time to the first moment I looked into those eyes.

It was a brutally hard labor, but I won’t get into that. He was born and life before that evaporated like ghost fog in the August sun. There was no life before him.

We locked eyes and I studied every detail of this magical creature I had cocooned for nine months.

His eyelashes made me cry. Literally. I attribute this less to the post-labor hormones and more to the fact that someone so small could grow the most exquisitely miraculous eyelashes.

I smelled his nearly-bald head every chance I got. I never wanted to forget that newborn smell. I wanted to store it in bottles to sniff at a later date. I wish I would’ve marked the day that his head stopped smelling like that. Like freshly-made human.

I smelled his wavy white-blond hair when he was a child brimming with imagination and infectious giggles and a thousand hilarious facial expressions. His hair always smelled exactly like you would expect a boy’s hair to smell. A combination of fresh air, sweat, dirt, Popsicles, and somehow, syrup. Both his hair and his energy couldn’t be contained.

When he hit puberty, his wavy locks darkened and curled, much to our surprise. I couldn’t help but tug at the teeny-tiny corkscrew curls he had at his temples and behind his ears. I physically could not resist. His hair darkened around the same time as his moods. My sunshine son welcomed in the storm clouds of adolescence without warning. From then on, he lived much of his life in his own brain instead of out loud for all of us to hear.

At 18, I still smell his hair when I hug him. I am saving up his scent. His college plans are made but I am not ready for this chapter to end. I am laying across the book as he frantically attempts to turn the page.

All I can do is dog-ear it and re-read these paragraphs once he’s gone. Scribbles in the margins. My highlighter almost dried up.

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I pray for these days to go in slow motion. I hang onto one foot even as he drags me, even as he has one already out the door. I want more time. More sniffs. More memories. More him.

I don’t know if I’ve done enough. I haven’t taught him all the things yet. I still have more to learn about being his mom.

He is patient with me as I grieve and I am thankful for that. I am holding space for the realization that 18 years has screamed by. I am trying desperately to stay in the moment as we experience all these lasts and anticipating plenty of amazing firsts.

I have so much to tell him but the English language doesn’t have enough words.

I will settle for “I love you.” Wildly incomplete, shockingly simple, but it will have to do.

Melissa Neeb

I'm a Minnesota native and lover of nature, WW2 memoirs, rescue dogs, photography, and thrifting. My husband and two teenagers are the great loves of my life. I am passionate about advocating for addiction recovery, writing about parenting, life, faith, and everything in between.