By Kelly Hines

This week, I’m registering my daughter for high school. It seems impossible that the baby I was snuggling just yesterday could be the taller than me teen I’m helping navigate through registration today. The past fourteen years have been a series of letting go moments, but this feels drastic. More like a cord ripping than a cord cutting. What am I going to do when she leaves for college? There should be a halfway house for mothers as they become empty nesters; something to teach us to transition back into the adult world.

“I’ve talked to my teachers, and we agree that this is the best track for me,” she says. Since when does she know what’s best for her? Since when does she ask the advice of people other than me?

“Well, it sounds like you’ve thought things out and I think that’s the right decision,” I say. Since when do I agree with her decisions? This is the kid who put an entire container of cookie sprinkles in the toilet before guests came over because it would ‘look nice’. The girl’s logic is whacked! It was, at least.

The first day of kindergarten, she gave me a kiss and a pat on the cheek and told me to leave. At summer camp when she was six, she told me she was perfectly capable of unpacking and she’d see me in a week. The child has been ready to move out since she was eight. I feel like I have been losing her a little more with each milestone.

Then I realize, she was never mine to keep.

From the day she became independent of my body, she stopped being mine. She is a person by her own right – not my property, not an extension of me. She needs me, for reassurance and guidance, for love and protection. But ultimately, the burden of her being rests on her own shoulders. It is a terrifying thought.

We arrive at the high school for open house, and my stomach is in knots. It’s so big, and there are so many people, and I’m not sure where to park. I pull in the ‘exit only’ and a 17 year old kid gives me the finger. My face reddens and I mouth ‘I’m sorry’, my daughter sinks down in her seat and pulls the collar of her shirt up over her face.

Inside is a hopeless maze of corridors and I try desperately to decipher a map. Kids and parents yell down hallways and brush past me, confident of where they need to be. I am overwhelmed and scared and unsure. Why can’t we go back to kindergarten, with it’s brightly colored walls and clear direction? My daughter’s name written on a balloon or flower petal, letting me know that you’re in the right place! This is where you belong!

I feel tears well up in my eyes because this letting go seems impossible. Then I feel a warm hand slip into mine and hold it tight. I look up and see my girl’s beautiful face smiling at me.

“It’s okay, mom,” she says, “I know where to go.”