It wasn’t a forever goodbye, but it was a significant one. A landmark in the vast valley of goodbyes mothers make. You expect a little tug when you first leave them with a babysitter, when the doors of their kindergarten school bus close behind backpacks too big for their little bodies, when they flip the tassel on their graduation caps. But this was me dropping my youngest off for his second semester of his freshman year in college. 

So why was I crying on the way home from Colorado?

Because he is the baby of my brood, the caboose of the four, the sharp elbows and knees that sat on my lap the longest and the latest. Because he once was the constant companion at my side, the one who dismantled and put things back together while his older siblings were learning their multiplication tables, the one who convinced me with just five words to bring Lucy back to a home that already had a Maggie: “I think she loves me.”

Because this summer, he’ll be driving the sag wagon for his father who is completing a cross-country bike ride. Because next summer, he’ll stay in Colorado.

And that’s that.

There is no more “coming home” for my kids. There are no more long, lazy summers smushed in a small apartment together.

Sam and Jamie are settled in Salt Lake City and looking forward to their next geographical assignment. Gus is graduating this summer with a degree in audio production, and he’s looking across the country—and the globe—for his first job. Mary Claire has found her home among the evergreens and the deep beauty of the PNW. Their homecomings will now be a few days at the holidays, if vacation time allows. And when they have partners and families of their own, that time will be divided yet again.

George was the last of my summer companions. He, too, has found his home. 

That boy-man changes in the shadow of the mountains. He deepens and expands. The Midwestern cornfields steal bits and pieces of him, but in the mountains, he is made whole again.

The only thing I’ve ever wished for my kids is happiness. (I mean, I wish them some financial success, too… simply so they don’t have to struggle so hard.) But more than anything, what I want for them is happiness and contentment. They’re all working toward that, I think. Finding their places, meeting their people, figuring out their passions.

I am a proud and happy Mom. 

Although their truest homes will always be wherever my heart is, wherever their father resides, there is no longer a physical place they want to call “home” other than the spaces they are currently inhabiting, the places they long to make their own.

It was just a realization during that 20-hour drive across snow-laden prairies that this was one of those final goodbyes.

A largely unexpected one.

Because he’s there, in the mountains with his skateboard, his violin, his keyboard, his guitar. He is there with his plants and his friends and the house they’re sharing next year. He is there with his love of and passion for the earth and the soil and the things that grow and bloom. He is there examining the layers of rock that constitute the mountains he loves, pondering the millions of years it took to create what he cannot live without.

He is home.

And home is 1,100 miles away.

But he is happy. His siblings, too.

And nothing else matters.

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