I will never forget dropping off my oldest child at his first day of kindergarten. He was coming from an amazing daycare/preschool situation that served him and our family perfectly with the bonus of being co-located in my office building. What a gift it was to be able to commute together. There was great comfort (mine, not his) in knowing he was only two floors away with an extensive outdoor playground that was visible from my office window. This cushy arrangement spoiled me.
Kindergarten arrived with the usual excitement and anxiety (mine, not his) that led me to overthink decisions from lunchboxes to backpacks between managing work projects and proposals. On the morning of the first day, I kept an upbeat tone in my voice and played it cool, lest he take cues from me; I was not going to be a source of anything but positivity on this milestone day. As soon as we hugged goodbye with way too many reminders (mine, not his) and I was out of sight, my tears welled up. It did not help that our neighborhood elementary school had a tradition of releasing helium balloons to mark the event; sappy symbolism that made my tears flow freely. This was many years ago before such practices were deemed environmentally unfriendly.
Many more sendoffs ensued over the next 13 years: sleepaway camp, overseas teen travel, Appalachian Mountain Club trail repair. And eventually, the college drop-off. Another teary goodbye (mine, not his) though I no longer felt the need to conceal my emotions. I shed a cocktail of tears: happiness for him as he embarked on a such an instrumental time in his life; sadness for me, anticipating missing his characteristically funny, loving, empathic side as well as his developmentally appropriate challenging and moody side.
Over the next four years, there were bumps, pivots, and plot twists along the way, replete with joyous reunions followed by still-painful goodbyes (mine, not his) when school breaks ended. Though the goodbyes never got easier, my sadness diminished more quickly each time.
And now, eighteen years after that kindergarten goodbye, we’ve turned the page to a new chapter and another sendoff as he embarks on a career move that includes another relocation a couple of states away. With this one, my sadness is greatly overshadowed by my joy and excitement as I watch him head off to live his dream and do what makes his heart sing. Are sendoffs easier? Hard to say. For sure, they are different.