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8/26/2010 Reading, PA Thomas Callahan hugs his mother Susan Callahan as his father Tim Callahan looks on. At Albright College Thursday afternoon where parents were saying goodbye to their children after dropping them off for the beginni

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The back to school pictures are back. Honestly, I used to get annoyed by them. Now, I miss them. I used to count the days until they were out of the house. No more school supplies and fights over what to wear every morning, no more lunches to pack, no more school projects, no more carpool, no more permission slips, no more volunteering.

When my oldest left for college, I lost a part of me, but I had two more at home that needed me. I was so scared as I left part of my heart in Wilmington and had to hope that his father and I supplied him with enough tools and guidance over the years to help him navigate on his own.

A year later we had to drop off the second child in Greenville, NC. It wasn’t any easier. In fact, it was harder. Boys eat A LOT. It was so weird not having to buy and prepare as much food. Instead we were paying for meal plans. I missed my boys so much. My life had always been basketball, soccer, and football. How could they both be gone?

Two years later my youngest left for Greensboro. It was like my best buddy left town and moved away. I felt alone. My house had a husband, 3 dogs, a cat and a bunny rabbit. I had a radio career. But I felt like my main job was over, done, gone.

We never ever stop worrying. Are they ok? Will they make good choices? Are they studying? Eating well? Brushing their teeth? Using protection? Being kind humans? My brain would go non-stop until it decided to allow me to sleep, which, for the record, is minimal. I’ve heard that this never goes away…..even when they are my age now. Guess I’ll never sleep then.

When I left college, there was no going back to mom and dad. It was “You’re on your own”. I was married a year later. It was a different time. (Now I sound like my grandmother)…but it’s true. I am FINE with them not rushing in to marriage and I am fine not being a grandma…..for now.

I miss the chaos, the noise, the dirty stinky clothes, the fighting and laughing. I miss them needing me.

But guess what I learned? They don’t ever stop needing their mama!

My kids are now 24, 23 and 21. The two oldest are back home as they navigate their next phases post Bachelors and Masters. And you know what? I’m ok with that. It’s a catch-22. I loved the quiet, but I love them being under my wing. They eat a lot, but I know they are safe each night.

I also know this is short-lived. The next phase of their lives is imminent. I suppose I will never be ready for it. I haven’t been ready or prepared for any of it since I was pregnant with the oldest. So I guess I’ll just figure it out along the way. You can buy any book on parenthood that you want, but it won’t be the answer. I’m here to tell you, there are no answers. There’s no instruction manual. We learn as we go and hope to God we teach them to be decent humans.

So share those First Day and college drop off pictures. Share them, brag, cry, be proud…and know that in time, they always come back. And know that no matter where they go, you always have a gentle finger on them….just from afar.