In less than a month, my son will graduate from college and leave for Alaska. Whether it's his launch into full-blown adulthood or the nearness of Mother's Day, I'm awash in parental nostalgia of the teary-eyed variety.
On a cold and snowy February morning just over 23 years ago, I learned the child we expected in March would make an early appearance.
He wasn't ready -- neither was I. We had a difficult labor, ending in a C-section and 10 days in the special care nursery.
Only months before, as I lay in the bathtub contemplating a pregnancy I had not planned, I'd felt the queer sense of harboring an alien. Feelings, emotions and events were at the whim of the hormones changing me on the inside well before any visible sign of the child to come.
My early pregnancy was troubled by a husband who wasn't sure he was ready to be a father and a family concerned about him. We worked through things, sort of, reaching an uneasy truce. My pregnancy progressed, and I grew into it.
I remember being wheeled to the nursery to have my first visit with the child whisked from my sight almost as soon as he'd been removed from me. He was covered in tubes and wires, head encased in the oxygen he needed to recover from a pulmonary embolism. I couldn't hold him; I could barely find a place to touch him.
I sat in the wheelchair taking in this creature I'd harbored for the past 35-1/2 weeks, looking for anything familiar. Suddenly he opened his eyes and considered me. I will never forget the feeling that shot through me at the shock of his separateness.
Despite the delay, we brought a healthy baby home from the hospital at long last, and began making the adjustments to our lives that children require.
Coming later to first-time motherhood, I embraced it fully. I loved to watch him sleep; I delighted in the constantly shifting expressions flitting across his face. I listened to the familiar story my grandmother told of putting my young father in a playpen in the yard -- close enough to see but not to hear -- with a newfound sense of horror.
We developed rituals: the good morning song I greeted him with, the night-night songs in a particular sequence. I delighted in his laugh and his boundless curiosity even while sometimes regretting the walks around the block that took an hour or more.
I'd like to think my son had a happy childhood. Parenthood brought new pressures to the marriage, though, and they began to overwhelm me. I left for the first time when our son was 15 months old. We reconciled and the marriage limped on for another 8 years.
When he was 9, my company sent me to China for six months. I'm not sure I'll ever find the words to describe the pain I felt saying good-bye to my child and boarding the plane. Nor the guilt as I warmed to my new life, free of the emotional turmoil of my marriage.
We managed to make it through our two-week family holiday in Thailand and Hong Kong, and my two-week home visit in February. When I returned home at long last, I ended my marriage.
I'd like to think that splitting his time between two homes didn't harm my son. That my adjustment to single parenthood and single personhood wasn't too disruptive.
I know I made mistakes -- lots of them. Whether it was the men I dated or the healthy dinners I didn't cook, I know I floundered sometimes. It took me awhile to right myself, not only from the damage of my marriage but from the earlier damage that led me to that marriage in the first place.
The events and occasional turmoil of his high school years are too long to get into here. In short, we survived his dropping out of high school and getting his GED; his wilderness adventure in Alaska and the summer he spent as an intern for the US Forest Service; his moving out on his own.
And now the "adulthood with training wheels" portion of his life comes to a close. He's going to Alaska as part of a national team of TSA agents to supplement the permanent Alaskan contingent for the summer tourist season. He's excited by the extra money that will allow him to pay off his credit card, and looking forward to exploring a part of Alaska he's not seen before.
Upon his return, he'll be moving to Cleveland with his girlfriend, who's attending medical school. Continuing on the next leg of the great growing away that began the moment he was born.
And tonight the love and pride I feel for the grown man gets all mixed up with a longing to hold the child in my arms once more, pretending he belongs to me and not to the world.
On the heels of that impossible wish comes another: that the world I gave him to will recognize, appreciate and take care of this precious gift of mine.
On this Mother's Day, remember the hundreds of thousands of women and newborns at risk around the world by contributing to the Mother's Day Every Day campaign.