Our family has always had a special way of saying good-bye, dating back to when our kids were little and my husband and I would leave them for a few hours to go out to dinner or a concert.
While we blew kisses and honked the horn, the kids would run on the sidewalk for a full block alongside our departing car, waving wildly and shouting "I love you!," none of us stopping until the car disappeared around the corner, and we were certain we couldn't see each other anymore.
Chris, Emily and Benjie no longer chase after our car like puppies, intent on catching one more kiss through the car window.
Which psychologists would likely say is a good thing.
Still, the tradition continues. Only, they are the ones in the car now. And we parents are the ones watching for a final wave of the arm, listening for a last honk of the horn, shouting "Don't text and drive! Call me when you get there! Pull over if you get tired! Don't forget who loves you!"
It's an overdone routine by some accounts, one we should maybe grow out of. And yet it's a routine that continues to play out as our children -- like many their age -- spend so much of their time on the road. The travel market research firm Pho Cus Wright says millennials tend to spend more on travel than possessions, with 66 percent considering travel a very important part of their life; more than 70 percent taking at least one leisure trip in 2013; and many taking four or five trips a year.
These are not casual trips around the corner. Our kids and their friends take extended trips to go hiking, rock-climbing, and back-packing, thinking nothing of driving 24 hours in a stretch to get to a good mountain.
I know at least two moms whose kids left home on separate occasions to walk the length of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, alone. One of those moms saw her 18-year-old return from the AT six months later, alive and intact, only to quit his job a year later and take off again, this time with a bicycle and a goal of riding from Ohio to Portland, Ore.
It's a given that healthy parenting includes cheering on one's children as they move up and out. And yet, it's also a given that separations can be difficult, evoking difficult emotional responses on both sides, from simple missing to jealousy; from mild sadness to fear that something will happen to the departed; from pangs of emptiness to the internalized realization that one day our good-byes will be permanent. The physicist, author and social reformer Robert W. Fuller, writing for "Psychology Today," goes so far as to say goodbyes are a precursor to death.
"Good-byes are poignant preludes to the leave-takings and withdrawals that deprive our psyches of the sustenance they need to maintain our selfhood," writes Fuller. "As such, every good-bye is a premonition of disintegration, a foretaste of death, another step on the path to 'adieu.'"
Maudlin, maybe. Still, Fuller makes a point we parents often forget. That is, that the pain of good-byes between ourselves and our children, on both sides, is normal, expected and can't be whitewashed or therapized away.
Which may be why our family unwittingly concocted, and still retains, the farewell ritual, which allows us to express all the love we share before we part, which played out most recently when the youngest among us left for summer camp.
We knew we wouldn't see Benjie again until the end of August. He'd be home for two weeks then, just long enough to pack up and leave for a college-exchange semester in Montreal. Back from Canada at Christmas, he'd be home only long enough to leave again, this time to pack up and move out permanently in January, into an apartment with friends.
As of the camp send-off, he'd never live at home again. Not fully.
We all knew it. And we all went to the airport to see him off, standing in position inside the terminal as he made his way to the security gate.
I wasn't sure if a 20-year-old youngest child eager to blaze his own trail was still interested in the good-bye game with his family. But then I watched, as every few steps, he turned back to smile and wave and at one point, to dramatically blow a kiss.
I felt it then, that familiar knowing around our special good-byes, that commonality of understanding and shared vision that connects our family when we are apart.
And with that, he disappeared beyond the gate and was off, while the rest of us climbed back in the car and headed home.
(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)
° 2017 Debra-Lynn B. Hook