I was at Trader Joe’s this morning. It was a typical morning with the parking crunch, crowded aisles, eighties tunes and my post-it shopping list. As always, I hit the produce section first.

Bananas, apples, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and celery. But, when I reached for the kiwis a strange sensation overcame me. Kind of like I was swimming underwater. The same thing happened when I reached for the raspberries. By the time I landed upon the pomegranate seeds, I was in tears. It suddenly struck me that I didn’t need to buy those items anymore.

My Boy, my eldest boy, was off to college, and from this day forward I only needed to pack one school lunch instead of two.

Eight a.m. at Trader Joe’s is not the time for raw emotion. None of it made sense. It was so hard to believe. I mean he was a tiny tot five minutes ago. As I perused the frozen food section, a part of me reasoned, so what? What’s the big deal? Parents deal with kids going off to college year after year, and he would be home for holidays and summer vacations. But, for me, for Mama, after 18 years of his big beaming grin walking in the door at 3:45 p.m. every day, this kicked my butt.

So what if we argued about curfew and alcohol and pot and why I only buy one box of Rice Krispies instead of two, when I know damn well that he’s not interested in the healthy cereal that I keep trying to shove down his throat.

So what if I waited up until 4 a.m. for a chime on my phone to let me know that he was OK. So what if I drove up and down the state of California so that he could play Tier II hockey for 12 years.

Yeah, I complained non-stop because it was hard sometimes. Hard a lot of the time. But nobody told me that there would come a day when it would end.

The Playmobil airplanes, the red wagon rides and a stuffy named Peepa, who wreaked havoc when he was inadvertently left behind in a Mumbai hotel room.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m excited for his future and the journey that lies ahead. I want him to experience all that life has to offer. But, that little window, that short little spell called childhood, which I thought would last forever, had magically come and gone. And, it happened in the blink of an eye.

When the big day arrived, My Boy picked up his younger brother and held him close. The image of my kids, holding each other close, with one set of feet dangling 12 inches off the ground, is forever seared into my brain.

My younger one’s first day of 7th grade was on the horizon so it was best that he stay home with his Auntie.

We slammed the trunk shut on the Bed Bath & Beyond haul and headed for the 5 Freeway. My Boy said he wished that we had taken

the truck so he could sit up front with his dad and me. In hindsight, I regretted opting for the cushy mommy mobile. I wished he was squeezed between us for the next five-and-a-half hours.

Over the past year, I often felt as if I was trying to hold on to an ice cube. I savored a series of “lasts.” The last concert, the last hockey game, the last day of high school. And then, all of a sudden, there we were, the three of us sharing a hotel room, for the last night before college.

With two queen beds and one disagreement about the AC temperature, My Boy chose to sleep with his dad and I took my hot flashes over to the cool zone.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a small town diner adjacent to the hotel. I was agitated by the magnitude of the day, complained about the wait for a table and was annoyed at the waitress for taking so long to bring the food. This was not how I anticipated The Last Day to unfurl. Even so, as the day progressed, we shared laughs, ran last minute errands and the dorm shaped up nicely. There was some discussion about where we would part ways and we settled on the car, which was parked at a meter.

When we said our goodbyes, My Boy thanked us for everything that we had done for him. He looked wistful, said he wished he could be away at college and at home with us at the same time, that we were the best parents ever. We held each other close. A puddle of love that felt strangely beautiful. To be so connected, so close was comforting. I didn’t want to let go but somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, a bell tolled. I knew it was time to go. After a chorus of I love yous, we got in the car and drove away. Slowly. The brake lights ahead turned streaky.

I turned my head one last time to catch a glance of My Boy, my golden boy. He waved. I waved. And then, with every ounce of strength, I faced forward. Without missing a beat, I reached for the half-eaten bag of Pirate Booty in the back seat and steadied myself for the drive home.

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