I've been driving everyone crazy these last few weeks before my son went off to college. Any time he was within earshot, I bombarded him with warnings.
Don't miss class. Don't take up smoking anything. Don't put your studying off until the last minute.
Don't! ... Don't! ... Don't!
You'd think the kid had just landed in my house three weeks ago and I had to cram him full of a lifetime's worth of parenting before it was too late.
"You gotta back off," Cooper finally said, having heard the drinking talk one time too many. He's right, but the backing off is not so easy for a mother.
My friends and I have been checking in on each other this week, monitoring our emotional status as we drive our children off to college for the first time. We've done the shopping and the packing, bought them new laptops and gave them the faded old bath towels; and then we helped them download it all into dorm rooms half the size of their bedrooms at home.
We look around and think: "How crappy," but don't say it out loud because we know that these kids are thrilled to have their own space.
I hug him for as long as he'll stay, hand him an extra $20, and drive away a different person than I was when the day began.
His 18th birthday came in April, with cake and candles but nothing that shook the earth, because he was still under my wing.
He was everywhere in the house -- his tossed shirts and the TV left on and the shoes all over. If April was the official crossover to adulthood, this week was the real one, because he's left our nest.
My friends remind me he's not going far, just ten miles across the river. He will be back, but it will never be the same. The minute he turned the key in the lock of room 2D, he was on another planet -- strange and exciting to him. Scary and new for me.
I've been thinking about mothers who are sending sons off to the military this month; their dreams must be draped in thick, black worry. They are tougher than I am, and must have more confidence in their parenting.
I still don't know if I covered all the bases. Ten times a day I pick up the phone to call him, and 10 times I stop myself.
I teach part-time at his university, a large enough place that our paths needn't ever cross. Lucky for me, they did.
Leaving a meeting two days after he moved in, I saw a pair of red sneakers moving across the commons. It was Coop, with two new friends.
We chatted for a moment, and then they moved on. It felt like I was piercing his bubble of privacy, but I felt relief. He was happy.
I'm the one who's homesick. I miss him, and I miss the way this home was, with him here every day.
He would tease his younger sister, get the dog all riled up, kiss me goodnight.
One of these weekends he'll come bursting back in and for a little while I'll be my old self. But then he'll go again.
A friend once said that he thinks of his son as a 10-year-old. The young man is 30 now, with a family of his own, but to his dad, he's still that dusty little boy.
To me, Cooper is 7, sweaty from football practice and asking for buttered noodles.
Light blue eyes and a froggy voice -- that's the boy who is sleeping a million miles from home tonight. Is he lonesome?
"It's hard, but everybody has to go through it," my friend said. She was talking about our kids, but right now, it feels like it was meant for me.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.