A 'See You Later' Letter To My Teenage Son

by Christine Burke
fstop123 / iStock

He unfolds his lanky frame out of the car and gathers his backpack and laptop. He smells faintly of cologne and unwashed teen, and his hair is gelled with “product” (kids today don’t say gel or mousse these days, FYI). He flashes a quick smile at me, his braces glinting in the light of the dashboard, and he says, “See you later, Ma, love you.” I watch him saunter off to the bus, his shoe partly untied. He climbs the stairs and gives me a quick wave from the bus window, and I watch that yellow bus take him off to start his day.

And it’s one more goodbye closer to the big goodbye that’s coming in a few years.

The goodbye that will break my heart.

The goodbye where he says, “See you later, Ma, I got this,” when we drop him off at his college dorm.

The goodbye that will mean he won’t be sitting beside me in the warming car, rain gently falling, as we listen to our shared music interest while we wait for the bus.

There have been so many “See you later, Ma” milestones, so many times that I’ve watched him walk away as he’s asserted his independence. So many moments when I let his hand go and thought I had all the time in the world for him to run back to me.

Soon though, and so much sooner than I want, I’ll be watching the back of his head as he leaves the nest to chase his dreams.

And I didn’t realize that all of the little “See you later” moments were supposed to prepare me for the day when I have to let go and trust that he’ll make his way in the world without his mother by his side.

“See you later, Mommy. I’ve got a playroom to destroy!”

When I gently held him steady and cautiously let go of his hands, his fat pudgy feet padded on the hardwood floor unsteadily toward his father, and he smiled and giggled with glee after taking his first steps. We laughed as his fat diapered bottom hit the floor, and he looked proud of himself.

I didn’t realize those first steps meant he’d be stomping into the kitchen in size 11 sneakers because a girl had broken his heart.

“See you later, Mommy! They have Play-Doh here!”

When I took a picture of him proudly wearing his Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, headed into preschool for his first day, I waved to the back of his head as he took his new classroom by storm.

I didn’t realize that, someday, I’d watch him enter high school for the last time.

“See you later, Mommy! I’m going to ride to the stop sign by myself!”

When I held his bicycle seat tightly and ran until I was almost breathless behind him, cheering him on and telling him I wouldn’t let go until he felt ready. And when my hand left the seat and he lurched forward on his own power, my heart soared.

I didn’t realize as I watched his 8-year-old self teetering on a two-wheeler that I’d someday feel the terror of him holding a steering wheel as I waved from the front porch with my heart in my throat.

“See you later, Mom. No need to walk me to the door, none of the other parents do…”

When I dropped him off at his first co-ed party, and I watched him walk up to the door and ring the doorbell, I felt nervous for him, remembering my own days of teenage angst and socially awkward teen parties.

I realized that, someday, he’d be attending parties in college. He wouldn’t need a ride or permission, and he would surrounded by alcohol and tough choices.

“See you later, Mom. Thanks for doing my laundry…”

When I let out an exasperated sigh because his bedroom floor is covered in unwashed laundry, I realized his messy chaos means he still lives at home, still fills our house with his cracking voice and raucous behavior.

Someday soon, he’ll be gracing our front door with a giant laundry sack slung over his shoulder, and his room will stand empty save a few childhood mementos he left behind.

“See you later, Mom. Thanks for the extra cash.”

When I heard the sounds of the ice cream truck through the open window on a sunny summer day and he tore through the kitchen, hoping to flag it down, I chased after him with a five-dollar bill. And when he came home triumphant with an ice cream cone dripping in his hands, I realized how much I enjoy the lazy days of summer.

I realized that, someday, he won’t be chasing the ice cream truck and that I’ll be slipping him some extra money “for books” that we both know he’ll spend on beer.

“See you later, Mom. She’s the one, and I can’t wait to marry her.”

When he would cuddle with me on the couch, pajama-clad and smelling of baby soap fresh from a bath, he’d take his pacifier out and say, “I always be with you, Mama. I marry you someday.” And I’d hold him close, knowing the day would come when he’d change his mind.

I realized that I will watch him nervously adjust his tie and wait anxiously for his beloved to float down the aisle. And I will smile at the back of his head as he takes her hand and says his vows. My eyes will cry, but my heart will be full because my boy will have found his happily ever after.

As the bus rolls away in the soft morning sunlight, I whisper, “See you later, Son.” And I patiently wait for later to come.