My son. My first baby.
My Little man, that somehow became a man when I wasn’t looking. He got on a plane…and he left me, for real this time.
He left me standing here crying and wondering how to sort out these feelings between relief and excitement that keep washing over me like waves that I don’t see coming. And as I stood there watching him check in his baggage, I was lost in a whirlwind of other moments, from a hundred other points in time when I had watched him go before.
When he was 8, and I had put him on a plane alone for the first time to go and visit his dad in California. I had hugged him and smoothed the cowlick his hair.
“Be good”, I said. “Behave yourself”, I cautioned. “I love you”.
I had worried as I watched him leave with the flight attendant with his little name tag and his hot wheels backpack. He had waved goodbye, but it didn’t feel like goodbye because I knew he was coming back. And I knew that she would watch out for him until his dad picked him up.
When he was 13 he flew away to Arizona to visit his grandparents and go to Summer camp. I had hugged him quickly while he was distracted by his Nintendo.
“Watch where are you are going”, I said. “Don’t lose track of your things”, I chimed. “I love you”.
I felt nervous as I watched him walk off absent-minded with his headphones and his baseball hat. He nodded farewell in haste and he happily got back to his game. But I knew he would be okay. I knew that soon he would be back, and that Super Mario would entertain him until my parents were able to pick him up.
Then when he was 17, he flew to Europe on a class trip to travel to several countries and to visit his Opa in Germany…and I had watched him go then, too. He had barely allowed me hug him as he started to board.
“Be careful”, I said, “stay safe”, I warned. “I love you”.
Then out he went into the unknown world with his passport and his Swiss Gear backpack. He barely waved as he eagerly boarded, but I knew he was coming back to the home I had made for him, and that all of the chaperones and the tour guides would keep him safe until his Opa had picked him up.
But now…now it felt different.
Now, it felt like the the job was complete. This time he was really leaving.
I used to think that as long as I had him here, he was still mine. Like somehow, I was still raising him. That there was still more to do. As if, while he was close, I would always remain a relevant part of his world. And even though he would go out there from time to time, he would always return to me no matter where he went.
And now, here we were, standing on the curb at the airport, as he checked in his bags to fly 1500 miles away to another state, to make a whole other life, and to begin to make all of the decisions that will come define everything that will happen to him from here on out.
And instead of the front row seat I had purchased, I would now be watching the game from the nosebleed section with a pair of cheap binoculars.
“I’ll always be here “, I said. “Make good decisions”, I sniffled. “I miss you already. I love you”.
And then I hugged him tightly, because that was all I could do, as I watched him walk away towards his future with his birth certificate and his grown up independence.
I felt as though I had just spent 22 years building a rocket…a beautiful, perfectly engineered uniquely spectacular rocket. And now, with all of my fingers crossed, I was finally watching it launch, hoping with all of my being that not only would it be air-worthy, but that it would soar effortlessly into space, and that it wouldn’t burn up in the atmosphere as it trailed off into the distance.
Because I built that rocket with my bare hands. Without instructions. From scratch.
And it’s beautiful.
And now I find myself holding my breath as I watch it go, hoping that it will send a signal back to mission control once it reaches its orbit…so that I may someday find a way to breathe again.
Off it climbs. Up up up…
Go little rocket. Go.