"Goodbye, I'll see you after school."
"Goodbye, have fun at camp."
"Goodbye, let me know your plane got in."
Being a parent and watching your children grow up is one long series of goodbyes. Everything we do to guide them to adulthood is aimed at one day saying "goodbye" as they step into their new lives.
So why does it still hurt so much when that day comes?
When we were out in Montana for Ben and Alise's wedding, I had to say goodbye to both of my boys at the same time. The wedding weekend was over and Warren and I were leaving early the next morning to start our trip back to Ohio.
Ben now lives in Montana with Alise and I would be saying goodbye to both of them for who knows how long. And Sam was staying on in Montana for a week with Ben and Alise before heading further west to Oregon, where he will start at Portland State next month.
I've said goodbye to each of my sons many times and under many circumstances. But this time was different. Here was Ben, stepping into married life. Here was Sam, making some new and important life choices.
Our last day in Helena, the day after the wedding about which I hope to write soon, most of us went to Lake Helena for an afternoon of boating. Alise's father, Joe, took my parents and the boys' father and his fiancé out first, while the rest of us stayed on shore and talked about books and other things. Then Alise, Ben, Sam, Warren, and I joined Joe and Jenna, Alise's younger sister, and we went out on the lake for a couple of hours - my farewell tour, as it were, with the boys.
It was wonderful. I got to see Ben and Alise in a setting familiar to them, unfamiliar to me. I got to watch Sam, who back on shore said he was ready to experience life directly instead of through his computer, try out a new experience. We all got the chance to laugh and talk and joke and relax.
After we came in, we caravanned back to Joe and Mona's house for one last meal of wedding reception leftovers. We ate, we talked, I watched my boys.
And then it was time to say goodbye.
Sam was first. Sam, with whom we had had a most excellent time (well, if you didn't count the last ten minutes when we arrived in Helena and were looking for Ben and Alise's apartment) driving cross-county. Sam, who'd stood on the rail at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands, gazing endlessly, saying "I want to come back here and hike." Sam, who'd just yesterday stood by his brother while Ben recited his vows and then broke into a loud cheer when the wedding was concluded.
Sam gave me a hearty hug. "Okay, mom, goodbye until whenever! I love you!"
Oh, I love you so, Sam.
A goodbye hug from Ben. A long, hard hug from my firstborn, who I have watched over from afar for so long. "Thanks for coming out to the wedding, mom. I'm really glad you did. I love you."
My dear Ben, how I love you!
Then goodbyes and hugs to everyone else - Alise, no longer my almost-daughter-in-law, Jenna, their parents, Joe and Mona.
I told Warren I was ready to leave. And although there was a large lump in my throat, I was in pretty good shape as we left the room.
Joe and Mona live in a tri-level house, and to leave the living room where we were, you walk down a short flight of stairs to the front door. As we were walking down, I glanced back and saw Ben standing at the top of the stairs, watching us leave.
He had followed us out.
That killed me.
I have seen Ben only three times in the last five years. I don't know when I will see him again. He's almost 25, he's married, he and Alise are forging their own paths. Yet there was my boy - all grown to manhood - watching his mother leave.
Maybe it occurred to Ben that he wouldn't see me for some time. Maybe he just wanted to see his mom for a minute more. Maybe it was just coincidence (but I don't think so).
I held my tears until I was in the car, and then they came. I cried much of the way to the hotel. Not torrents of tears - more like a spring that fills a basin slowly until it wells over. I cried the same, slow way through the night while Warren held me close.
The next morning we left Montana early, driving into a golden sunrise. We exclaimed over the trip so far, we talked about the wedding and the reception. We told each other "I love you."
The road was brilliant before us. Adventures lay ahead.
And I silently bid my boys goodbye one more time.