I remember when I used to walk my son and daughter to elementary school. They'd walk ahead of me, giggling and pushing each other, racing to see who could get to the crossing guard first.
One day, when my son was in kindergarten and his sister was in fourth grade, I was walking them to school as always, but I didn't feel well. I felt feverish and all-over yukky, like I was coming down with a flu.
"I'm just going to walk you to the crossing guard," I told them. "Then you two can walk the rest of the way by yourselves."
They looked at me with uncertainty. I always walked them into their classrooms.
But I felt really sick. "Hold hands," I said. "You'll be fine."
They walked across the street, with the help of the crossing guard, obediently holding hands. No problem. Gratefully, I turned go back home. Then I looked back.
My son was standing stock-still, staring over at me with an expression of sadness, confusion and outrage. He yanked his hand from his sister, put both hands over his face, and burst into tears.
She bent down to him. "He doesn't want to go without you," she called. "He wants you to walk with him."
I did, of course. How could I not?
Fast forward to this year, earlier this week. My son is now in fifth grade; he's a safety guard, so we drive to get to school early. As he gets out of the car, I brush his too-long hair from his eyes. He sighs. "Mom!" he says, batting my hand away, "don't touch it! I just gelled it into place!"
We walk together toward the front door, but about 50 feet away, he says, "That's fine,"
and runs ahead, leaving me standing by the outdoor custodial closet. It's an agreement we have. Each day, he leaves me a little further behind.
That particular day I just stood there, watching him, awash in memories. I realized with a start I'd been standing there for more than a few minutes. My son had long disappeared inside the doors. I turned to go and nearly bumped into a teaching assistant I knew.
She looked at me sympathetically. "It's hard to let them go, isn't it?" she said, and she put her hand over her heart.
You have no idea. Or maybe you do.