TODAY IS MY LAST official Mother's Day. I will be accepting gifts, cards and words of affection for years to come, to be sure. But it will be in honor of what I was, not what I will ever be again.
My youngest child will leave for college next fall, and with her will go my daily responsibilities, and my definition.
"Mother" will be the salutation on a card. It will not be what I do.
The truth is, my list of mothering tasks has been shrinking every year since this last child was weaned and potty trained.
But when she got her driver's license and no longer needed me to take her to school or to the mall or to sports practices, the future hit me like a brick in the nose.
Since then, I have been on the Farewell Motherhood tour.
The last 6 a.m. wake-up call for school. The last lunch to pack. The last homework project. The last game. The last phone call for her. The last load of dishes in the sink. The last door slam. The last demand for an evening's itinerary. The last good-night kiss.
All the while, I have been waiting for the final gun to sound on the bittersweet game I have been playing for 20 years, knowing it will be a shot to the heart.
I once wrote that I was a "car-pooling mother of two, and I work for a newspaper in my spare time." I was being flip when I wrote that, but the truth of it grew exponentially every year.
Whatever I have done for pay during the lives of my children, it has been but a side job. The daily rituals of raising them, both mundane and sublime, became sacraments in my own private religion.
Knowing that this day would come, I have spent months trying to conjure up a vision of a future without kids. My future. And, for the life of me, I can't bring one into focus.
Write a novel? Take a class? Train for a marathon? Clean out a closet? Learn a new craft? Organize family photos? Open a new flower bed? Learn to cook? Get a job in retail? Catch up on my reading, my sleep, my chores?
I did not know it until after I had my children, but I never wanted to be anything but a good mom, and I don't want to be anything else now, even if they don't need me to be that any more.
It is as if I existed only because they needed me to exist. As if I was an answer to their prayer. Now that they no longer need me, will I fade to translucence like an apparition? Will they think they dreamed me?
Will I think I dreamed them?
As more and more baby-boomer mothers hit this wall, more is written about the second wind that blows through us when the children open the door to leave.
But I think this is just somebody's sales pitch because my friends and I talk about this moment with dread, and those ahead of us in the food chain do not send back cheerful reports.
My grieving friends and I are admonished regularly that the kids will be back -- too soon and with too much dirty laundry. We are told that it will be a measure of our success as parents if they do not come home to stay, jobless or hopeless or with kids of their own.
But while I readily admit that this separation is a good thing for the kids, I have yet to see what is in it for me. My children have been the framework over which I have built my daily schedule, my professional ambitions and my grocery list. What do I build on now?
I place my hope for the future in the familiarity of this loss.
More than a decade ago, I was asked to give up my job as a sportswriter and write a column about what it was like to be the working mother of school-aged children.
I took a deep breath, and said, "Yes," though I had absolutely no idea how I would do such a thing.
At the end of my last shift in the sports department, I sat in my car and wept tears of grief for the sportswriter I no longer was. How would I define myself now? There wasn't even a name for the job I wasn't sure I could do.
When I drop Jessica off at Penn State in August, after what I am convinced will be the shortest summer of my life, I will no doubt sit in the car and cry for the job I no longer have, the job that no longer defines me.
Then, I hope I will take a deep breath and say, "Yes."