By Cheryl-Anne Millsap
January 27, 2010
Special to Pinch
After almost 6 weeks of having her home, we just helped my middle daughter pack up her gear to return to school at the end of the long winter break. She was ready to go. She was ready to get back to her life on campus.
She took her new sweaters. She took the new DVDs and the books she bought while she was here. She took the female kitten she recently adopted from a friend on campus and who predictably went into heat as soon as they got home. The cat whose expensive, but necessary surgery put a significant dent in the post-holiday budget.
When her ride arrived we sent her on her way - as we always do - with hugs and kisses and a warning to be safe. To watch out for snow on the mountain passes, to stay alert and aware of other drivers. I told her to call us when she got back to school and to stay in touch on a regular basis. We reminded her to eat right and to make the right choices. She’s in college. I brought up that part about making good choices again.
I gave the kitten’s ears a rub and waved as the car pulled out of the driveway.
She left behind a pile of papers in an empty bedroom room and an unmade
bed. She left a lot of quiet. The house seems bigger. I feel older. Her
younger sister, the last one left at home, is lonely again without her
playful big sister around.
The next time she’s home for any length of time, it will be the end of another year of college. She’ll walk in and we’ll make a big deal about it. Glad to have her back again.
We all have a tendency to make a big deal about homecomings. But so often the goodbyes are rushed and frantic. It’s that way every day. We fly out the door, separating on our way to school and work, expecting to meet again at the end of the day.
When the worst happens, and someone doesn’t make it home, and most of us know at least one family to suffer this way, we grieve, desperately sorry we didn’t take a minute to say goodbye.
It’s a lesson we learn as we grow older. Even when we forget to practice it, we know that every moment is precious and no goodbye is too insignificant to recognize.
Watching my girls say goodbye, hugging as my younger daughter grabbed her backpack and flew out the door, I heard my daughter whisper “I love you,” as her sister dashed across the front yard and hopped in the car waiting to take her to school.
She knows, I thought. She knows.
When it was my turn I pulled her into my arms, imprinting the feel of her, the smell of shampoo in her hair.
Saying goodbye to a child, as any mother knows, is a powerful ritual. When we say goodbye we are priestesses with incense and prayers and the power to call on mysterious Gods to protect those we love. Even as we accept that those Gods may let us down.
“Be careful,” I told her, kissing her again. Wrapped around those words, like a spider’s web of silver threads, was one simple plea.
Come back to me.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons,” and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org