Mastering the Art of Good-Bye

Unfortunately, I have had a lot of practice saying good-bye to my children. When Lindsay was six and Courtney nearly three, I became a single mother. I accepted the unwelcome ritual of helping them pack their overnight suitcases with clothes for visits to their father who, for the first two years, remained in the house where we all had lived. Every other Friday, before driving two hours to the halfway point between the girls’ new home and their old, I tucked a note inside each of their small suitcases, telling them to have a wonderful weekend and that I loved them.  At some point I also started including a line that said ‘know that when you read this and think of me, I will be thinking of you, too!’  Separation anxiety was a huge issue for all of us.

The visitation ritual continued for years, but modifications were made.  After the old house sold, the girls’ father moved across town from us. He saw the girls more often and picked them up for their time together. The suitcases seemed to grow along with my girls. Other things changed as well. Six years to the month after I became a single mother, I remarried. For Lindsay and Courtney, this meant a stepfather, a new home, new hometown, new school and new friends. Eventually, even the notes changed and became less frequent. What never altered was the ache in my heart every time I said good-bye.

Lindsay left for Chicago in June, 2006. My sister lived downtown and agreed to have Lindsay stay with her so that Lindsay could ‘network’ in her chosen field before the fall term at Columbia College began. But my first-born left suddenly; I didn’t have time to prepare to say good-bye. That summer before college is infamous among parents:  previously wonderful children become disobedient, disrespectable and display all kinds of other diabolical traits that help parents let them go. I not only missed that summer before college, I missed two of the three consecutive summers. Lindsay has only been ‘home’ for short periods of time since she left. She now lives in Orlando with her boyfriend, takes her classes online and travels whenever she can, gaining experience in music business so that she can achieve her goal of becoming a tour manager. And I continue to live in denial that her bedroom is just a place she stores what she can’t take with her.

Courtney left for college last week. She, too, chose Columbia, the largest arts and media school in the country. Like Lindsay, she loves the urban campus, the diversity of the students and the focus on the arts. She is studying fashion retail management and journalism. Courtney spent the summer living at home, but I barely saw her as her job, friends and a new boyfriend all demanded her time and attention. We definitely argued a bit more than usual, but there was no drama, nothing that made me think ‘maybe there will be some benefits to her going away.’

When we moved Courtney into her apartment last week, she asked me if I’d packed her a note. “No,” I admitted, “I couldn’t finish it.” Part of me was surprised that in all that excitement, she remembered the tradition. I came home, realized I’d overthought the words, overemphasized their importance. Then I wrote the following:

To my Courtney,
I have had a lot of practice saying good-bye to you, so you might think I’d be pretty good at it by now. But I’m not. It still feels so unnatural for you to sleep anywhere but down the hall from me, still hurts to have you away for more than a day. And yet…
There is not much I would change about your life. Because every good-bye, though painful for me (and sometimes for you) has taken you on an adventure. And every adventure has contributed to the amazing woman you have become. And so, with this good-bye, as I leave you to your greatest adventure yet, I am sad with missing you and yet so very, very excited for you, too. ‘Work hard, play hard,’ as Rob likes to say, is the appropriate wish and a good philosophy for college. It’s your life, Courtney—go out and create it.  And know that I’m your biggest fan.

If you asked me, would I turn back the clock to when my girls were younger, I’d say yes. I’d love the opportunity to do it again.