When Your Kids Span Generations, Watching The Youngest Leave Is Bittersweet

Your shoes don’t match,” my husband laughed and commented as I sat in his office late one Friday afternoon. “Late” is the pivotal word here, because I was in fact late. I was so late that I had just taken a pregnancy test and discovered I was expecting our third baby. We’d always wanted a third, but things just didn’t work out that way. We counted our blessings of a son and daughter, and were actively engaged in all of the activities pre-teens love—Little League, Girl Scouts, soccer, PTA, and volunteering in the classroom. So how were we going to fit a new little being into this chaotic world we’d created?

As the months and years went by, it became abundantly clear that she was the extra gift God intended for our family—a gift that would bring joy to my mother’s world as she struggled to care for my aging father, a gift that gave all of us a reason to be kids again—to laugh at G rated movies, to play Barbies, to watch cartoons of Clifford the Big Red Dog, and sing songs about Fisher Price’s Little People. She’d make us laugh till we cried with a carpool of teenagers singing to ‘N Sync’s Bye, Bye, Bye, as she’d giggle in her car seat and shimmy her shoulders all the way home from Serra High School.

Watching your youngest go to college is bittersweet.

She’d be there for me when the older ones went off to college. “Empty nester?” other parents would ask. “No, not me. We still have a little one at home,” I’d smile and inwardly thank my lucky stars I still had someone at home who wanted to read bedtime stories and go trick-or-treating.

And I’ll never forget the way she wrapped her little 8 year-old arms around me and hugged me tight the night I lost my mom. She gave me strength to know I’d be OK, because kids love their moms, and moms love their kids, and she was right there to prove it.

We would become buddies in many ways, and that was fine by me. She’d come along to work with me, or travel with me, or just bake cupcakes with me, and even if our day didn’t start off great, she’d never miss kissing me goodbye before school.

She’d grow to believe in a world where unicorns and rainbows are an acceptable way of life, because they make people smile and give them reasons to dream. But she’d also learn the meaning of hard work. She felt pressure being the youngest, but she persevered when she had to, and she developed a sparkle and a beat all her own, and I hope she always owns that beat.

Fast forward 18 years from that crazy Friday afternoon of shock, and I wake up to find her standing in the doorway with her car keys.

“I’m heading out to work,” she says, and with that she is gone.

In a few short weeks, she’ll be standing in the doorway of her dorm room, and her dad and I will be the ones heading out, leaving her behind to figure things out on her own.

She won’t have to text to tell me she’s leaving or arriving. In fact, she won’t have to text me at all.

But I know she’s going to be OK.

She knows how to make friends, she knows how to work hard, she knows the importance of a hug and a kiss, and she knows how to bake cupcakes. As for me, I’ll be OK, too.

I know it will take some time to adjust, to think about the extra gift we’ve been so lucky to have, the extra years of soccer and Girl Scouts and PTA, the extra smiles, and the extra love. I might include ‘N Sync a little more on my play list.

I might shed a tear or two when I see a unicorn. I might even bake some cupcakes and send them to her in a care package.

I’ll count the days in anticipation of our first visit, and, I’ll be sure to wear matching shoes.


What Happens to The Third Child When Older Siblings Leave

46 of the Best College Care Package Ideas

Gretchen Veihl is mom to three children ages 31, 28 and 18 and Grandma to one. With a BA in English, she has a passion for reading and writing—wishing she had more time for both. A compulsive volunteer, she’s an advocate for senior citizens through ElderHelp of San Diego and dedicated to building strong families for people of all ages



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