the departure

November 27th, 2017

The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely on themselves — Walt Whitman

I saw a movie a few weeks ago, by myself, at a nearly empty Monday matinee. It is an acclaimed film, a coming-of-age story about a high school senior yearning to get out of a painfully outgrown home. It was funny, real, and poignant. And it was personal, because for me, the one who came of age in this story was not the impetuous high school senior who tosses herself quite literally from the nest, but her narrow-minded and critical mother, hardening herself against a future she cannot fathom and a departure she cannot prevent.

Coming of age is not so much a coming, you see, it is a going. And then it is gone.

I thought I knew what this would take, but the going only gets harder and the distance longer, the risks higher and the hurt deeper. As parents, we school ourselves on preparedness. We strive to protect. But in the end, your defenses get you nowhere, and what we really hope is that our children are headed for somewhere, somewhere, somewhere: a place without us, a place of courage and self-reliance, a life that is honest and original, not of our making, without the apron strings of approval or the aftertaste of unwelcome advice. Free.

Another Monday not long ago, I sent my daughter a text during the middle of her school day after I’d cracked open the door to her bedroom and encountered the daily mound of strewn clothes, dirty dishes, shoes, towels, textbooks, and the ungodly mess of her inner sanctum. My terse words of blame and disappointment read: “Grow up!” Mustering the restraint that so often eludes me, she did not respond. And now I see why. Because the message is for me. The message is always for me.

Time to let go.



  1. As always, you touch me deeply. I listened to a bit of the podcast, and just realize I have never heard your voice except in my head! Your voice in my head always speaks wisdom and reality, and I think you for it.

    Comment by Donn King — November 27, 2017 @ 1:14 pm

  2. And the many mothers and fathers (the guardians of high school seniors) cried with you, saying “amen” because, so it is.

    Comment by MJ — November 27, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

  3. And it’s not just a lesson for mothers with young daughters, but for daughters with old mothers. She isn’t treating me like a child, she’s just acting like an old person. I am responding like a child. Grow up! You touch me too; and you teach me. Thank you. Again. Gretchen

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — November 27, 2017 @ 5:05 pm

  4. Isn’t it wonderful to see the message everywhere? Truly, there is one heart, one mind.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 28, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

  5. I saw this movie on Saturday by myself as well, and I am so appreciative of your thoughts here, including the “twist.” My second child is a freshman in college and came home for the first time since he’d left in August. I find myself even more melancholy than I was when he left initially, and I think I know why. You’ve helped me. Thank you.

    Comment by Elizabeth Aquino — November 27, 2017 @ 10:19 pm

  6. Thank you, too, for your beautiful writing, advocacy and service. You help far more than me.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 28, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a form of PTSD in American parents who basically lose their child after it goes to college. Over here the separation is less severe because universities are closer to home.
    Byron Katie says something similar to this that the outside world how we perceive it to be is a reflection of our inner state. I get it and I don’t at the same time.

    Comment by SImone — November 28, 2017 @ 1:09 am

  8. Karen! This was SO written for me. Now I need to see that movie! Thank you for sharing. I’ve encountered that EXACT mess in my own daughter’s room and uttered the same words AND later realized (as you did) that I also need to grow up. Ugh. Such a hard road! Anyway, so fun to say “me too” to you. Thanks for writing!
    (Rex John’s daughter)

    Comment by Elisabeth — November 28, 2017 @ 10:51 am

  9. Yes Elisabeth, I know you like my own daughter, so many years ago. Our babies will be OK!
    (Rex John’s old roommate!)

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 28, 2017 @ 2:21 pm

  10. I loved the podcast! Just what I needed today. Thank you for your wisdom and generosity.

    Comment by Catherine Borgman-Arboleda — November 29, 2017 @ 8:18 am

  11. My girls have been long gone. They still call between visits and give me information about their lives, the grand children etc. I still want to be the ‘knower’, the provider of sage advice, but they have long since wanted that from me – they let me know as teens that they did not come to me for advice, merely to share. I have learned over time that they just need the ear of someone who cares deeply about them. May it always be so.

    Comment by Jude Smith — November 30, 2017 @ 6:30 am

  12. Your stories in your writings, about your daughter, are never opaque, probably the first time I’ve ever used that word. In watercolor, and other media, it just means a dark color, mostly no color, overshadowing the light. But without the shadows, a portrait, landscape, or most other subjects will not have dimension. Time, age, distance make such scenes real, but often filled with unrequited feeling, a universal experience, often visiting at the most unwanted times.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — May 4, 2023 @ 1:39 pm

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