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Sometimes the Tears Take You By Surprise

Bittersweet, that's what it was, sitting with my husband and oldest daughter across a desk from the counselor at school. Not the school psychologist, mind you. Or the academic counselor. The college counselor, for my daughter, who is in her senior year of high school.
10/02/2015 05:57pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Bittersweet, that's what it was, sitting with my husband and oldest daughter across a desk from the counselor at school. Not the school psychologist, mind you. Or the academic counselor. The college counselor, for my daughter, who is in her senior year of high school.

Yes college: a place that seemed so very far off until so very recently.

And so we listened and the counselor talked ...spouting statistics about standardized testing, the merits of the SAT versus the ACT, AP credits and application time tables. And then lobbed questions, lots of them: What do you want to study? How big a school? Geographical preferences? Any interest in your dad's alma mater? "That's way over in Scotland," I thought. "Are you insane?"

It was odd and oddly okay to be sitting there talking about something I wasn't sure I was ready for. But this is it. What we've wanted for her. To grow up, pursue her passions, find her wings.

The meeting was coming to a close; my daughter had to return to class. She stood and looked back at us. Positively poised, fresh faced, bright and bright eyed, beautiful, most especially to me, her mother, in a way nobody else is. She paused to thank the counselor, said goodbye to all of us, turned and walked to class, her thick curtain of chestnut hair swaying as she went.

I turned my gaze back to the counselor who asked if we had any other questions. And I did, but then opened my mouth, and found myself saying something entirely unexpected,

"I'm going to cry now." I announced, barely able to get the words out. My eyes filled and tears caught in my throat, stopping me from saying another word.

My husband came to the rescue, asking a question of his own, saving the counselor and me from the awkward silence in the room.

As they talked, I looked at my knees, trying to regain composure, and wondering why, exactly, I was crying. It wasn't what I would have predicted. It wasn't the overwhelming ache over how quickly she's grown up and how soon she'll be gone.

No, these were tears of relief. And motherly pride.

We spend years caring and hoping and loving and ferrying our children, worrying all the while if they will ever grow up. Be the good citizen that we want them to be. Learn to use the potty, tell the truth, be on time, dress themselves, be kind, make their own breakfast, buckle their seatbelt, make friends, use a napkin, do their homework, say thank you.

We've passed all of those milestones. This giant experiment of parenting our first child to adulthood is nearly complete. She can hold her own. She's bright-eyed. She says thank you.

She will leave our nest. She will find her wings.

I know she'll be ready. As for me, well, that's another question.

Katie writes about food and family on her blog Mom's Kitchen Handbook. You can also find her on Instagram.