It is that time of year when kids go off to school. Whether it is starting kindergarten or the first year of college, the pain to the heart of separation exists. I felt it last week with my puppies, Koda and Summer, and numerous times over the years with my human children. As mothers we have done our best to prepare them for independence from us, and yet it is the letting go that is the hardest. I will not forget the tears when my youngest had his first day at kindergarten. He barely let me pry myself away from the door. I heard him crying inside as I walked down the hall, then an hour later I called the front office to check (thinking he had worked himself into a real fit and needed me to come scoop him up). Apparently his tears stopped moments after I left the building.
The lesson for me at that time was that perhaps the separation was harder on my heart than his. As each of my college kids were set up and left in their decorated dorm rooms, I remember feeling the loss deeply, almost like a missing appendage. I felt off balance returning to our home seeing the now empty clean teenager bedroom, the vacant chair at the family table, and a quieter house with one less child to fill me in on tales from his or her day at school. Off-balance and enduring the ache of the gaping void, I learned to slowly adjust to our changing family. I began to savor vacations and holidays when all four children were at home with us at the round kitchen table. Over time, I began to view our separation as growth and expansion, and welcomed the sharing of each of their new adventures. My little people were now out in the big world.
There is a book that I used to read to my children that captures the transition of separation and growth in quite a lovely way. Another great gift from my mother. The Kissing Hand is a picture book written by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Ruth Harper and Nancy Leak. It was first published in 1993, and had several spin off books. It is a sweet story about a child raccoon named Chester who is scared to go off to school. His mom gives him a magic secret kiss inside his paw. She tells Chester that whenever he has a moment when he is missing her he can find comfort in the kiss he holds with him. “Just hold your hand to your chest,” she tells him, “and think, ‘Mommy loves you.’”
Sitting next to my son or daughter on the bed, I would close the book, reach over to his soft small hand, open the fingers, and place a light kiss on the inside of the palm, close the fingers and tell them to save it for later. Sure enough my little love bug would eagerly open my fingers and give me the same kiss to treasure when we parted. Separation is part of life. My mom and dad live all the way across the country, my three sister live far apart from one another. Although my own children are not too far away, we do have many nights not under the same roof. The loving feeling we keep in our hearts, or the sweet kiss in the clutch of our hands, are what we hold onto. I recommend The Kissing Hand for all those saying goodbye at bus stops, dorm rooms, and puppy schools. Separation is hard but inevitable.