The lump forms in your throat. The tightness spreads across your chest. Your stomach churns, exhibiting the anxiety you feel inside. Tears form in your eyes, threatening to spill over and stain the new shirt your wearing to mark the special nature of this day, but you hold them back because you don't want anyone to see them.
You're nervous about what lies ahead - it's the first day of High School.
And you've just dropped your son off to begin the next phase of his life, his journey away from you and towards his own destiny.
I'm sure the feelings I was having in the High School parking lot were commonplace this morning, as much among the students as among the parents. For High School parents who are veterans, this being their third or fourth child, their cars barely slowed as the kids vaulted from front seats of SUVs. But then there were the rookies like me - those sending our eldest off into the future for the very first time. It feels so monumental to us, like such a big step. I watched one father get out of the car, gently place his daughter's backpack on her shoulder and kiss her goodbye. As she walked away, I watched him closely and saw the tell-tale wipe of the eye and knew he was sharing my feelings too.
The kids are probably equally as nervous, but it's uncool to show it. Eric and I had a great drive to school, me reviewing the rules in the student handbook, reminding him to be good to his teachers, cautioning him about whom he should avoid sitting next to, and stuffing extra dollar bills in his backpack lest he starve to death before pick up time at 1:15.
Arriving at school, the backpack became a point of contention. His contained a few minimal essentials: his planner, a notebook, some pens and pencils, and the forms he was supposed to turn in today.
"Mom, no one else has a backpack," he argued. And he was right - probably 75% of them had nothing in hand but the forms.
"You need a notebook to take notes of the supplies you're supposed to buy, a pen to write with, and your planner has your schedule written in it. Plus, your teachers will be giving you handouts and I don't want to find them wadded up in your pockets. Humor me, take the backpack..."
"OK Mom, I love you."
And then he was gone - out of the car and immersed in a cluster of his grade school classmates, standing next to the one other boy carrying a backpack. A Mom can tell by the look on her child's face what he's feeling inside - the quick lick of his lips and sideways cast of his eyes confirmed for me the nerves he was feeling. No one else would probably see them, but I recognize the symptoms.
Time to go, I'd said my goodbyes, but for some reason I sat paralyzed in the parking lot, unable to move away. I sat and watched him for a few minutes as the clock ticked towards the 8:00 bell. "Better get moving," I thought. "You don't want to be late on the first day."
"Maybe they don't know how late it is," I considered. "I could just jump out of this car really quick and remind them they'd better be moving along to class."
I'm sure that would have gone over really well!
So I took a deep breath, said a final prayer for Eric (and for myself), and pulled away from the parking lot. Letting the tears flow, I called my sister Erin for moral support. Her two year old, Evan, is still in the phase where everyone comes second to Mommy. In Erin's life, separation anxiety is as it should be - the son crying when the Mom walks away, not the opposite as it is in my case.
Now that my tears have fallen and I've accepted that I'm not saying goodbye to Eric forever, but rather just for five and half hours, I've begun to remind myself of all of the fun and excitement the next four years will hold for him. He will be attending a wonderful Catholic school and will grow academically, physically, emotionally and spiritually beyond what I can even imagine today.
On the day I first walked Eric to Kindergarten, I could never have envisioned the friendships he would forge, the success that he would experience, and the fine young man he would become. Today is the same - I will look back on the commencement of his high school career four years from now and recall this moment with fondness.
And then I'll drop him off at college.
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.