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He gave me a brief hug and turned quickly into the airport terminal. He may have had tears in his eyes, but I couldn’t be sure, because my own vision was blurred by a teary stream.

My son was heading back to his hectic life as an investment banker in Atlanta after unwinding at our home for a recent three-day visit. A flight to see him is 75 minutes, driving time from our home in Virginia is about 10 hours. But distance isn’t the only barrier to seeing my youngest more often — his endless work schedule is. Impromptu, unplanned weekend visits have been replaced by Google calendar and long-term strategic planning.

Both my son and daughter have launched their careers, become professionals and are navigating adulthood. And for the first time in my life, I finally and completely understand the term “bittersweet.”

I’m proud of my children and their accomplishments to date, but as I wave goodbye after their visits, I recall the tears that my own mother shed when I packed my luggage after visiting my childhood home. I was always touched by her sentiment but happy to return to the big city and the promises it held.

I tell my children: You can’t really “see” until you’re ready to see. That goes for every stage of life. An 8-year old will never understand the trials and tribulations of a rebellious teen. A teen can never understand the anxiety of a newly minted college graduate. A 20-something can’t appreciate the contentment of parents who choose to stay home on a Friday night and throw a pizza party for their brood. On and on. We see when we’re ready to see.

And a son, off to his first professional job following college graduation, simply can’t comprehend the bittersweet feelings of his parents as they watch him disappear into the airport terminal. That will have to wait until he has his own children and the nest begins to empty.

My husband and I have given our children generous space to grow, learn and stumble. I’m proud of that, and I know we’ve done our job well. But there are days when I wish I had spent a little more time relishing the charms of their childhood and a little less time worrying about their future. Because now that it’s here, I find myself looking back more regularly.

I can’t get that time back with my children. But I can learn to live more in the moment by savoring their hugs a little longer, wiping away my tears with gratitude, and seeing their maturity as a wondrous gift that I can unwrap again and again and again. There are so many more presents to look forward to!

Teri Merrill

Teri Merrill has been writing professionally since 1982. She has recently been writing for her town newspaper.

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