“Jackie, you have to leave,” Joan Morris, whispered as she nudged me gently out the classroom door. “You’re scaring the children.”

It was 1993 and my baby boy, Tim, was about to begin his illustrious school career at St. Simon Catholic Grammar School. He looked like a happy-go-lucky Smurf in his tiny blue uniform, blond curls dancing merrily in the wind, when he bravely escaped my vice-like gripe and ran to the book corner. I, on the other hand, broke down into convulsions, surrounded by twenty-five other Smurfs and Smurfettes.

“I promise he’ll be okay,” Joan soothed.

I wiped my dripping nose on my sleeve and peered into the loving face of Mrs. Morris. “Oh, I have no worries about him! It’s me that I’m concerned about. I have such a hard time letting go.”

Releasing a 5-year-old to their first full day of school is upsetting for many parents.  You know they’re about to be influenced by their teachers, administrators and peers. From that point on they’ll belong to the maniacal claws of the world and will soon develop their own thoughts, opinions, desires and, hopefully, a conscience. While you are, of course, still a major influence in their budding lives, you’re no longer in complete control.

Freeing each of my four kids to attend grammar school was nearly my undoing. And I’m embarrassed to say the ensuing years never got better. I’m famous for wanting to freeze-frame each moment of their lives. I saw every graduation and first day of the school year as just another lost piece of their childhood.

Recently, my 23-year-old Tim announced he was moving to Spain.  Apparently, a nagging voice deep within his soul called him to return to the country he fell in love with while studying abroad.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked panicked.

“Mom, if I don’t go now, I’m afraid I’ll regret it the rest of my life.”

Holding back the tears, I whimpered, “Well, just promise me you won’t fall in love with a Spanish girl. I want you back!”

I studied the face of the boy I lovingly call my “man/child” and knew I shouldn’t try to stop him. After all, this was who I trained him to be – an independent thinker prepared to follow his dreams. But why did his dreams have to be so far away?

At the airport, I held onto his massive six-foot frame, blubbered like a toddler who just got her finger stuck in the door and said good-bye sadly. But despite that angst, I knew this new adventure would be good for him. He would mature, learn more about life, himself, and grow immeasurably from the experience.

When I gave birth to my children, I gave them life – their life. This is something I occasionally struggle to remember. They’ve never belonged to me. I’m just a conduit to help them find the path that is right for them. And the result? Three daughters and a son who are totally self-sufficient and wonderfully unique individuals. They’re their own people and not clones.

I’ll never be able to withhold the tears when I kiss any one of them good-bye. Fortunately, maturity (and a lot of acting) has refined my ability to wait until they’re out the door before I break down. But I have come to appreciate each new departure as another wonderful step in becoming who they were born to be.