Michelle Martin

What did I forget?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The first time I left the house for the evening without Caroline when she was a baby, it was to go to a wedding shower/bowling party.

Caroline must have been about two months old; I know I had not returned to work from my 12-week maternity leave.

I remember being relieved to get out of the house with my husband, to see friends and coworkers I hadn’t seen for weeks, maybe even to be a little bit of the person I was before I became a mother, before I had an infant attached to me what felt like 24 hours a day.

But once we got to the bowling alley, all glowing patterns under black lights for Friday night, I couldn’t stop looking for Caroline. I kept checking by my feet for the infant carrier, looking at my husband to see if he had the baby because she wasn’t in my arms, trying to hear a cry over the music that was playing. It was like my mind somehow couldn’t accept that she wasn’t within arms’ reach, although I knew very well she was safe and sound at home.

I still had fun, although I’m pretty sure I bowled remarkably badly, and we didn’t stay very late. I was even more relieved to get back to the baby.

It felt almost the same a few weeks ago when I left Caroline at her college for the first time. I knew very well that she was safe and well and happy. I saw her room and met her roommate, made sure she had the bed made and had gotten her student ID and had a supply of snacks.

But hitting the road the next morning for the two-day drive back home in a remarkably empty car, I wanted to turn around to the back seat to ask a question or make a comment or share a joke, and she wasn’t there.

I felt like I should be turning the car around and going back to pick up this child-no-longer, because obviously I shouldn’t be leaving her a thousand miles away. It’s not that I don’t trust her; it’s that the world can be a big, scary place, and now she has to navigate it without so much hand-holding, and that probably scares me more than it does her.

That’s the thing, though: She has to do this. Kids have to grow up. They have to make their own decisions, even ones their parents don’t agree with, and learn from both successes and failures.

I’m still only a phone call or a text message away, of course, and things seem fine. But if you think of it, spare a prayer for all the students leaving home for the first time this year, and for all their parents who can’t believe how quickly this day came. I’ll be praying for all of you, too.