I may have been aware of this feeling for a while now, but I just managed to name it for what it is. You know when you’re on the way up on a rollercoaster, before the big plunge, and you can feel yourself tightening and tensing? Or is that just me? My stomach is clenched. I have to breathe more consciously to calm myself. It’s as if my feet are pressed up against the front of the rollercoaster car, bracing myself for the fall.

My daughter heads back to college tomorrow.

I couldn’t be happier for her. I’m excited for how excited she is. And I’m used to it by now. It’s her senior year, and the house without her is no longer empty; it’s the not-so-new normal. But I realized this morning that I’m walking through the day braced.

It’s the feeling you have when you’re waiting for the thing you most and least want to happen to happen. It’s a bit of anticipation and dread rolled together, and I’m rolling with it.

I’m letting myself feel the feeling and not judge it, or me. I’m sitting next to her on the couch every moment I can, and also doing the other things I have to, and want to, do. I’m relishing the time we’ve had together, and listening to her stories of the friends she can’t wait to see. And smiling.

I’ve been blessed with a few weeks with her at home this summer. I am blessed with a wonderful life when she’s not here too. I may love it most when the whole family is together, but watching her step further and further away is also a gift. It’s bittersweet, as a friend reminded me the other day. Being present for my kids getting older and needing me less – or at least differently – is the sweetest feeling in the world. And also one of the most bitter.

I’ve learned over the last few years that the closeness doesn’t go away as the physical closeness goes away. I’ve learned that the relationship changes and deepens, and that it’s a new kind of fun. I’ve strengthened my object permanence, at least somewhat. I’ve learned to breathe through even this, with self-compassion, presence, and a active search for joy.

But I’m still bracing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!