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If I call you, just come

9/10/2013
Almost seven years ago I wrote about my difficulties separating from my children the first time they went on the LMS spring overnight trips. I think the piece rings true for the start of the school year for many parents. So here it is, again, only slightly amended.
 
 
I have always loved observing the rituals we have as parents when we say goodbye to our children. “May I have a hug?” or “one last hug” or “see you at the benches” or “Daddy will be picking you up” or “I love you” or so many other assurances.
 
A friend gave me the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn when my younger son and I were having “separation” difficulties at daycare. He would grab my leg and not let go until I managed to put him in the arms of his caregiver. The Kissing Hand is about a raccoon who doesn’t want to go to school; he would rather stay home with his mother. I was grateful to my friend for giving me what I thought was a way to help my child part more easily from me.
 
But what I got was a book that was much more useful than that. Instead I learned something about myself as a mother.
 
Yes, The Kissing Hand lovingly shows how little Chester’s mother and Chester could ease the hurt of parting. But the truth and surprise is that by the end, it is not Chester who needs this reassurance, but his mother. She presses her hand where Chester kissed it and “the kiss filled her heart with special words. ‘Chester loves you,’ it sang. ‘Chester loves you.’”
 
So my friend gently let me know that it was about me at least as much as it was about my child – this parting. I was not too willing to accept that, but thinking back on things, I know it is true.
 
Our children understand more than we think. When my kids were little and I needed to be somewhere, I was frustrated if they could not more easily say goodbye; but when I had time and could linger and feel the moment, the parting was more difficult. No matter if I was impatient or lingering, my older son would whisper every single time to me as I left, “If I call you, just come.” I would nod. He never called, but it is clear to me now that he was dealing with these separations better than I.
 
Am I disappointed when I get a brushed-off goodbye? Am I delighted to get a “public” hug at the end of the day? How does it feel to learn that neither of them is homesick while they are away from us overnight?   I miss saying good night to them or watching them sleep, and I know that I should be happy and grateful that they are getting along fine without me.
 
And I wonder, how soon until I am the one who wants to say, “If I call you, just come.”