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When the Second Child Leaves Home (for the First Time)

My second child is heading off to a gap year program in a matter of days, and last night, (let's be serious -- in the wee hours of this morning), I cried. Not just cried. Boo-hooed. Sobbed. Wept. Lost it. Shed a river of tears.
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Cool as a cucumber? Not so much.

My second child is heading off to a gap year program in a matter of days, and last night, (let's be serious -- in the wee hours of this morning), I cried. Not just cried. Boo-hooed. Sobbed. Wept. Lost it. Shed a river of tears.

You'd think that I'd have this under control by now. It's not my first rodeo, after all. But no, the waves of sadness come at the most unsuspecting moments, and in the wee hours of this morning, they crashed on the shore of my otherwise-not-so cool-and collected-exterior.

And after 23 years of marriage, you know what my husband (finally) learned to do? Absolutely nothing! Thank god.

He stayed with me and let me weep. And when he thought it was over, he stayed longer as subsequent waves would hit. He was there to hold me (when I was ready, because I didn't really want to be held at first). He said nothing (which is perhaps his greatest feat -- no "we'll keep you busys" or "there there's" or "it's gonna be okays," or any other pablum to placate and minimize the depth of those tears).

He did't try to fix it, or stop me, or assure me that everything would be okay. He did tell me that it would be fun to live alone in a house with my two ADD boys after my second daughter flew the coop -- but I can't really blame him for a moment of self-conscious optimism in the middle of the night when his wife was puddled in a corner of the bed, overcome by a tsunami of grief.

Not grief, actually. More like self-pity. Well deserved self-pity.

Because I don't want her to go. And I don't want her to stay. Not really. Not for a second would I implore her to change a single plan, plans that are about to take her out of any communication with me, on the other side of the globe, for months on end, as she learns to step into her independence.

It's that inherent conflict that is the hardest to live with, I think. I am ultimately conflicted. I want for her... to go, to live her life, to explore herself and the world, to begin this delicious next phase of young life. And I grieve for me... left, deserted, abandoned.

I raised my kids in a house surrounded by women (and peppered with a few good men, like my husband). I liked it that way -- it was strong, positive, affirming, supportive. We used to laugh that our youngest child, the only boy, was raised by a bevy of older sisters, and he learned to swim in a sea of estrogen. I think that serves a man well, to find his confidence and his voice in the context of respecting women.

Now I am going to live the next four years alone with my husband and my son. On the on had, they're as wonderful as they come: loving, respectful, playful. I really couldn't ask for two kinder and more spectacular men to live with. On the other hand... calgon, take me away!

So here I sit, preparing for the next phase, crying at the slightest provocation (to be honest, crying at no provocation), trying not to flood the floors of REI as I help my daughter find a backpack the will properly fit her tall, thin, strong and powerful frame. Honestly, I'm just like wallpaper, anyway -- she knows what she's looking for, and I'm only along for the ride. To keep her company. To be in her presence for another few moments before she flies off into her future.

Thank god.

Change is hard. It always seems to come at the most inopportune times. And no matter how ready you think you are for it, it can back-hand you across the floor with absolutely no notice at all.

My baby is leaving home. My middlest. The child whom we had the privilege to supervise while she raised herself. No great surprise that she's off on a grand adventure. It's exactly what I want for her. It's the vision we've held all of her life.

And now I understand the true meaning of the expression, "Be careful what you wish for or you wish surely get it."

Godspeed, Sydney Maya. But before you leave, just one more thing? Pass the tissues, please.