Last Day of School: Watching Her Go and Thanking Her for Every Moment of Motherhood

“Last day,” I said. “What can I make you?”

“How about pancakes?”

As I began gathering the ingredients, my 17-year-old daughter, Addie, settled, onto a stool at the kitchen island.

Teen on porch
We love them, but we need to let them go.

Last Day of School

Sometimes in these few morning moments before school, she’d be darting around collecting her homework, retrieving her soccer uniform from the dryer, while I cooked her breakfast. Usually we had time to talk, maybe just five minutes, but always worth it to me for that brief glimpse into my teenage daughter’s world of friendships, art-making, soccer and schoolwork.

Occasionally, when one of us was overtired or stressed, we started our day curt and cranky with each other. Nothing a fried egg couldn’t fix.

I spooned the batter into the pan while she caught me up on the stories from her Senior Night the evening before. She had worn a rainbow sequined gown that she had made herself and stayed out long past my bedtime. “We signed yearbooks,” she said, “And there were class superlatives. I got most likely to start a clothing line.”

“Of course,” I said, sliding two pancakes onto a plate and setting the syrup bottle in front of her. I didn’t want her to move an inch. I wanted her to stay just like that and keep talking, telling me things—nothing and everything. I wanted to be able to hold that moment like a stone in my pocket for when she’d be off at college next year, and I would start my day without her.

There were mornings when I’d make her a breakfast sandwich then rush back to my home office to meet a deadline, but this morning I sat down across from my daughter with blonde hair as straight as a pin and a spirit full of colorful loops and curls. This morning I soaked in what I didn’t realize until now that this—our brief early morning connection—would be one of things I’d miss most.

She ate fast as usual, but today I didn’t tell her to slow down, only in my head. Slow down. How can this be? How can time have played this cruel trick on me? The years—from that first day of school to this last one—felt like a blink, but one that contained every worry, and joy of mothering this little girl into young womanhood.

Slow down. Please slow down.

“Thank you, Mom,” Addie said as she took a last quick bite, set her plate in the sink, then turned to gather her things.

I shook my head at her confident grace, her quick steps across the kitchen that only yesterday was the stumbling gait of a toddler.

“Thank you,” I whispered. But how could she possibly know what I was really saying: Watching you blossom has been such a privilege that there are no words for my gratitude. Thank you for every moment of motherhood, and thank you for the chance to make you breakfast each morning, for sharing that part of your day with me.

When I insisted on a photo, she stood on the front steps in her purple windbreaker, an enormous backpack slung heavily over her shoulder. As I looked at her small smiling face, my heart both swelled with pride and broke with longing.

Then I hugged her, and we cried together for the first time over this ending. We just held each other quietly acknowledging the gift of these years. I would have stood there all morning clutching her against me, but through her tears she said, “I’m going to miss the bus.”

So, I let her go.

She hoisted up her backpack and started down the driveway. When she turned around, we both waved. Then I watched from the ground where I would stay planted, as my little girl soared into the sky.

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headshot Sandra Miller

Sandra A. Miller’s essays and articles have appeared in over 100 publications including FamilyFun, Modern Bride, Spirituality & Health, and the Boston Sunday Globe Magazine, for which she is a regular correspondent. One of her personal essays was turned into short film called “Wait” starring Kerry Washington. Just as the nest is emptying out in September, her memoir, Trove: A Woman’s Search for Truth and Buried Treasure, will be published by Brown Paper Press. You can find out more about her online treasure hunt at or follow her on Twitter @WriterSandraM or on Instagram: sandra.a.miller

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