A tear slowly rolled down my cheek as we stood in the airport, at the interface between insecurity and the security zone. The point at which goodbyes are said. The awkward transition between the known and the unknown. Hundreds of people around me were saying goodbye to family…to friends…to business colleagues. I stood awkwardly with my hands in my pockets watching my sixteen year old daughter holding her two year old brother tightly, asking for yet another kiss. The final kiss before daughter put down brother and walked through the security line towards the plane that would take her to South America…to Chile. To a long way away.
She was embarking on an exchange program for one year. She was leaving behind everything she knew, everyone she loved. Off the edge of her earth. She was all smiles…her eyes were brilliantly blue warm orbs of hope. In these eyes, I saw the courage of a young person…undaunted. She looked at me one last time and gave me a hug. Her eyes met my eyes one last time. I cried some more. My voice broke. My heart slowly separated into hundreds of small pieces of sea glass. I momentarily remembered when she was born, when I first looked into the deep darkness of her newborn eyes. When she was still wet and the umbilical cord still coiled downward. Before I cut the cord. Before she began breathing.
She turned and walked into the line. I remembered the first time she had skipped when she was three. Skipping exhuberantly and un self-consciously, before turning around to see if I was watching.
This time, she did not look back. She did not need to know that I was watching. At the magical age of sixteen, at this moment, she did not care who was watching. She was leaving for herself. She walked and walked, and kept walking until she disappeared around the bend in the concourse. I picked up my two year old son and hugged him tightly. And at that moment, I knew that there would come a time when he too would walk around the bend in some future concourse. He would not need to look back.
This bittersweet moment of being a parent. Of wanting more than anything for our sons and daughters to stride confidently away. Of knowing deeply that everything we had ever done for them, came down to this moment.
My two year old son turned to look and wonder where his sister was disappearing. In the moments before she put him down, she had told him numerous times that she would miss him. So now, I turned to him and I asked him what it means to miss someone. He thought about it. He turned to me and he said, “It means, I love you next year.” I held him tightly and kept walking.
Jeffrey Post-Holmberg is a contributing writer to River Notes blog on the Two Rivers Counseling website. When he is not busy saying hello and goodbye to his son and daughters, he is putting himself in the humbling position of trying to learn how to surf…a beginner with three years of experience.