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“My thoughts are with you / Holding hands with your heart to see you.” Earth, Wind & Fire

I cried on the way to Trader Joe’s today.

What is it about being in the car alone that makes every wistful thought, every premonition of the future and mournful reminiscence of the past come surging to the surface? It must be the lulling monotony of the drive that causes our minds to tiptoe into corners not visited during the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The solitude. And sometimes the soundtrack. Such was the case today when September by Earth, Wind and Fire came on my radio about halfway through my dreaded Saturday expedition to fill our barren cupboards before another snowstorm.

I was already wistful because I was alone and my 17-year-old daughter had accompanied me on my last grocery run. Today she was out with friends, so I left my husband and son home and set out on my own. I was thinking–as I have been doing a lot lately–that “next year at this time,” there will be no more shopping trips together, no more “binge-watching” of girly favorites, no more shared cups of tea. My eldest child, my only daughter, is going to college in the fall. And not just any college easily accessible by car or train, but University with a capital U… across the Atlantic Ocean in England.

Today, as soon as I heard the opening query of September: “Do you remember,” I was immediately transported back to the tiny living room of our family’s first home. Hailey was maybe six months old and firmly perched on my hip with one chubby little hand grabbing my shoulder and the other curled around my own. We were dancing and singing the morning away and this was her favorite song. Maybe it’s because she’s a September baby; maybe she had some pre-birth intuition that the 21st night of September they were singing about was the night of my first date with her father. For whatever reason, whenever we were bored and lonely, that CD went into the stereo.

Over the past 17 years, those familiar strains have made me smile and wax nostalgic with her, telling her the same story over and over (as both of my children tell me I tend to do). Today though, it just made me cry. How could so many years have passed since those sweet baby-dancing days that she was actually leaving home to live in another country in eight short months?

It’s not the distance that’s getting me, really (the fact that a whole OCEAN will be separating us), for I know I’d be feeling just as melancholy if she were going to the state next door. It’s simply the going. Leaving family and home. Growing up. This will be a (air quote) Huge Life Change, and like the death of my father, I’m unsure I’m prepared to handle it. But how can we truly prepare for something we haven’t yet experienced?

This time I have a little notice… time to wrap my head around it, get used to being the only female in the house, start following sports more closely to keep up with dinnertime conversation. I think that part of me won’t recognize it’s real, though, until we step on that plane at the end of summer. Another night in September will make its mark on the lyrics of my life, and the memory of our hands clutched in harmony will have to sustain me as she forges ahead in pursuit of her own song.