Right before he sets off for college, my teen wants to hang out with me—be still my heart


Motherly Collective

A few weeks ago, in the middle of a sunny, almost-warm late February day, Alex walked into the kitchen and uttered these shocking words. “Hey, do you want to go on a walk with me?” 

This wouldn’t be remarkable for any reason other than he’s 17. And given that he’s now a driving, almost adult, I see the mailman more predictably than I see my son.

I looked around the kitchen to be sure one of his friends hadn’t snuck in behind me, but it appeared he was speaking to me. It wasn’t necessarily the most convenient time to go for a walk. I was attempting a baking feat, which was ambitious from the start, but what do you do when your high school senior asks for some mom time? You put the batter in the fridge and go.

I wondered if he had anything earth shattering to tell me, but he didn’t. I wondered if I should use the moment to impart lifelong lessons, but I didn’t. Instead, we just walked to the shops that are a few blocks from the house. He had a gift certificate to cash in, so there was a destination for the excursion.

He spent his gift card and we leisurely strolled through some of the newer shops I hadn’t had a chance to visit. We talked about nothing in particular—little things of no individual significance. But collectively, they added up to mean the world to me.

When we got home, he even thanked me for going. Since he wasn’t feverish, I claimed it as the only thing it could be: A Sunday miracle.

Okay, so it wasn’t the parting of the Red Sea. But if you don’t have a seventeen-year-old, here are a couple of simple truths I didn’t see coming:

  • They are their own independent individuals, with busy schedules—whether it’s social, sports or school, they have places to be and people to see. And over time a mom’s role gets downsized. One day you’re the star in their show then suddenly you’re lucky if you get a bit part. If there was a playbill for Alex’s senior year, my role would be listed at the bottom as “line cook.”
  • Once they can drive, wave goodbye. When you are their personal Uber, those quick trips from point A to B and back again are actually critical connections—the little windows that offer glimpses of what’s going on. Now that Alex is his own shuttle service those connection points are gone. Gone, as in, “here are your car keys, now drive away with my heart.”

I wasn’t prepared for this. I was thrilled he’d worked so hard over the past three summers and saved enough to pay for half a car. (The hubs and I matched his funds, since driving around in a partial car would be awkward, not to mention unsafe.) But regardless of how they arrive at their first set of wheels, it will become the vehicle that clearly furthers the process of letting them go.  

And here we are, halfway through his final semester in high school. In a few short months, my firstborn will be off to the University of Georgia. Of course, this is wrought with its own excitement, joy, pride, anxiety and sleepless nights. His role in our family is huge, with two younger siblings that look up to him, even if they don’t always act like it.

Suffice it to say, I’m feeling emotionally fragile these days. It’s unknown, even to me, when the sentimental pangs will hit. I’m trying to avoid known triggers, like staring at his baby pictures, thinking this is his last <insert occasion here> as a full-blown housemate. And, of course, sentimental songs are strictly forbidden. 

I held on to the warm memory of my walk with Alex for the following week. When the next Sunday arrived, I lingered around the house, finding excuses to hover near his doorway, just in case a second miracle might occur. As the afternoon ticked along, I took the ball into my own hands. Leaning into his room, I asked oh-so casually, “Hey, you want to play some tennis?” I turned to leave, certain his head wouldn’t even lift from his Snapchat, as he muttered a dismissive, “Nah.”

Instead, he replied with a simple, “Sure.” 

Ah, a second Sunday miracle.

I’m fairly certain one can get too pushy with the miraculous. So I was all set to revel in the joy of the past two weeks, when out of the blue, the very next Sunday, Alex asked me—just me, no pleading siblings or dad allowed—to go to lunch after church. And here’s the kicker: He paid.

This marked the third miraculous Sunday in a row. And this past week was Easter, so make that four.

I hesitate to even put it in writing, but could it be that my son is feeling slightly sentimental about his impending departure? Could it be that he is feeling the heavy tug as well? I will never ask, but I will take it. And I will hold onto it, ever grateful for his letting me in as I struggle to let him go.

And, of course, I’ll keep my Sunday’s open.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.





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