This is the Definition of the Happy Kind of Sadness

As my puffy red eyes catch the glare of the airport security guard, I am well aware that I have far overstayed my allotted time in the drop-off zone. And yet, given the unrelenting flow of tears blurring my vision, we both know that I am not yet ready to move my car.

Feeling a happy kind of sadness at graduation and other milestones

I bow my head, close my eyes and allow the magnitude of the life-changing transitions that had occurred over past 45 days sink in:

My oldest child’s out-of-state college graduation weekend with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents in tow; my second child finishing his sophomore year of college and returning home for a full time, suit-and-tie-wearing summer internship; my third child finishing his first year of high school with a smile on his face; all four kids back under our roof for the first time in a very long time (which also meant that there was a continuous flow of our college kids’ friends who frequented our house during their high school years stopping by for visits and meals); my baby girl beautifully leading 200-plus guests through her bat mitzvah service, and my husband and I delivering our fourth and final bar/bat mitzvah speech to her; and finally, our college graduate, who came home stressed about being in limbo and not yet having a job, managing to land a “real job” in New York, with a start date scheduled for 48 hours after her younger sister’s bat mitzvah.

So, here I sit at the airport curb, a mere 24 hours after my baby girl became a Jewish adult, staring at the glass doors through which, just a few minutes prior, my oldest daughter insisted on walking through without me.

[Read Next: Now I Understand Why My College Daughter Flew the Coop]

Hold on; let go. Hold on; let go.

This is what we parents do. We “hold” our children—care for, nurture, protect them—and we slowly, mindfully and intentionally “let go” of them, in order to prepare them for independent flight. We spend much of our parental life trying to figure out the magic formula for when and how much to hold on, and when and how much to let go, only to find out that there is no magic, and that this is an ongoing,  evolving process that continues throughout our lifetime. And we also learn that, no matter how “ready” they or we are for the letting go part, when it is actually time to hit that launch button…well…

Here I sit. Still lingering at the curb.

I think about well-meaning friends and family members commenting to me over the past few months about how stressed I must be with all that’s going on and how overwhelmed I must feel with the details and planning. “You must be so excited for this all to be over,” some said.

“No,” I would say. “No. Not at all.”

“This is the good stuff.”

There have been times during my life when I have wished that time would move faster and that certain events would be over—even happy ones. But those days are very few and far between for me now. All I can think of now is how very lucky I am to have this kind of “stress” in my life—a graduation, a bat mitzvah, all four kids back in the house for a period of time, my parents and mother-in-law alive and well and participating in all of this. Wish for it to be over. No way.

Not that there weren’t stressful moments amidst the planning and adjusting to college kids home. There were plenty (the kids just never seem to outgrow the need to push each other’s buttons). But the most instrumental self-care tactic that kept me not only sane but happy over the past 45 days was engaging in lots of gratitude-infused self-talk.

“This is good stress,” I assured myself even when my daughter’s bat mitzvah dress was still not ready at the tailor two days before the event, or when there weren’t enough seats for all family members at our Friday night dinner.

I thought about the Hebrew song of gratitude that we sing during Passover service called Dayenu, meaning “it would have been enough.” Any one of the above-mentioned milestones “would have been enough” to fill me with joy and gratitude. But all of them in 45 days. This is dayenu on repeat! Even with dress stress!

I wiped my eyes, turned them away from the glass doors, and nod to the police officer still eyeing me with a mix of impatience and compassion.

“Dayenu,” I said to myself.

I got to hit two big launch buttons in the past 24 hours, and I understand that my tears evolved from the good kind of sadness—the happy-sadness. I am fully excited for my launch-ees but cannot ignore the void they leave back at the launch pad.

Hold on; let go.

Hold on; let go.

Again and again.

And again.

How lucky are we?


Why I Cried For the First Time When Leaving Home at 22 

College Graduation: What It Feels Like to Be Along for the Ride

Why a Mom is the Most Valuable Asset Getting Through College 

About Julie Burton

Julie Burton is a mother of four, a wellness expert, speaker, and award-winning author of The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother’s Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being.You can connect with Julie on her website,, on Facebookor twitter and instagram.

Read more posts by Julie

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