The Bittersweet Beauty of Letting Go

picture of a German castleLast week my daughter’s wish came true, like a fairy tale. She received what she called, “the biggest news of my life.”

On Tuesday evening I watched her face as she listened to the person on the other end of the phone. Her eyes crinkled almost closed as she grinned, both rows of teeth still straight two years after the braces came off.

Then she squealed and jumped, an outpouring of emotion compared to her typical steady poise. “Yay!” She’d won a scholarship to spend her junior year of high school in Germany.


When she got off the phone I jumped up and down, yelling my congratulations. I’m not so steady or poised. Then I hugged her tight, not releasing her until she pushed me off. “Let go. I want to call Grandma and Grandpa.”

I let go and fought back the tears that show up like unwanted guests at happy milestones. This time they didn’t take me by surprise.

I remember her first day of Kindergarten. I’m not a big crier and I was thrilled to walk her to class. She was ready. She knew her ABC’s and could figure basic math. She longed for more stimulation than two days of preschool each week. I was ready too, or so I thought. I had an appointment 30 minutes after the school bell rang. I had places to go and things to do, plus a new baby and a toddler to fill the two and a half hours she’d be in school.

girl buckled iin

Emily in her car seat on the way to Kindergarten

I kissed her, waved goodbye and walked to my car, happy and collected, so much calmer than those other moms with the tissues and runny mascara. Then I closed the car door and the salt water erupted, a sudden surprising spring.

It happened again the first time I let her ride around the block on her bike, all by herself. I sat with my back pressed against our front door, blinking and counting. How long would it take her to pedal her pink bike the quarter mile? When I reached 100 I craned to watch the street corner, waiting for her to reappear, wobbly and smiling, her helmet strapped tight to her head.

girl on bike

Years later I hugged her goodbye and cheerfully watched her board a charter bus. She was giddy with excitement to cross the border into Canada with the Spokane Area Children’s Chorus to attend a music festival.

Picture of girl

Choir has always been her happy place and she’d cleaned our bathrooms for the entire school year to “earn” her portion of the cost. Like her first day of Kindergarten, my tears waited politely until I shut my car door and pulled into traffic. Then they rushed in, clouding my vision and reminding me that she was growing up and away from me, just as she should.

It’s a joy of parenting to watch your children become more independent, to need you less. Sometimes I feel like the mama bird that shoves her chicks off the tree branch because I know they can fly and soar. But it also rips a little and my heart hurts. I miss them, whether it’s the time they spend away from me at Kindergarten, on a solo bike ride around the block or during an extended stay on the other side of the world.

All year I’ve been preparing myself for Emily’s life-changing call, ever since she decided to apply to the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange program. Many students don’t get accepted but she’s an achiever, one who works hard to chase her dreams and lasso them to the ground. She’s a stellar student and musician, a nurturing math mentor, a kind sister and friend who has always been eager to try new things and meet new people. I knew she’d win the scholarship.

Picture of girl

Yay! I’m happy for my daughter and this amazing opportunity to learn another language and study another culture, to make new friends and discover herself in new ways. But I know nothing can prepare me to watch her go through airport security in just four short months.

How long will the tears wait in the wings? Will I even make it to the car?

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  • Barb

    We work so hard to get them to this point and yet it’s still somewhat shocking when it arrives. Hopefully those tears will be mixed with some tears of pride and joy. Congrats to your daughter. And good luck to you as you adjust to this new phase.