A Look Back…and Forward

Today is the day our family has been anticipating for months now. Maybe even years, it seems.

My son is leaving for college.

He’s psyched.

His mother, however, sways dramatically between giddiness that he’s made it this far and sadness at how quickly it all happened.

But I’m mostly giddy.

In the back of my mind is a post I wrote one year ago yesterday, when he was just starting to fill out college applications, take SATs, and dream about where he might be heading this fall.

This particular post is one of my favorites and I wanted to share it here again today for some of my new followers.

It pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing for the past 17 years.


Exit Interview

I sit waiting in the small room, my portfolio lying on the desk in front of me. It seems decent enough, filled with pictures and art work, certificates and ribbons. I wonder if there was anything else I should have included that would make a difference. I guess it’s too late now.

Maybe some sort of bribe would help. I wonder if there’s an ATM nearby.

I feel awkward in my fancy skirt, blouse, and pumps; they look like a Catholic school uniform all grown up. I should have worn the same clothes I’ve worn on the job site all these years. There was never a complaint, unless you count that unfortunate clogs-with-skinny jeans incident. At least nobody took pictures.

The door swings open and the interviewer glides into the room, taking the seat across from me. She wears beautiful clothes, flashy jewelry, and not a hair is out of place. Her nails are impeccably manicured without a chip in sight. Her shoes match, she looks rested, and she has no spit/mud/coffee/rice cereal/zit cream stains on her clothes. Why did I have to get the one interviewer who can’t possibly relate to my job?

“Good morning, my name is Miss Dopportunity, and I will be interviewing you today.” She looks down at the stack of papers she has taken out of my file.

“So, I see here that you are nearing the end of your current position as Mother to a High Schooler. My paperwork states that you were on the fast-track, climbing rather quickly through the ranks of Mother of an Infant to Preschool Mother and PTA Mom.”

“Well…,” I stammer, “if you can correct that in the paperwork please, I never requested to be on the fast-track. I really wanted to master each position before being promoted to the next.”

She chuckles quietly, glancing up at me for a moment before regaining her perfect composure.

“There really is no “other” track for this career. True, some of those early days may have actually seemed longer than 24 hours, but in reality the whole career path moves at lightning speed.”

She rifles through the papers a bit more and makes a few notes on them, then fixes her gaze on my portfolio.

“Let’s have a look at what you’ve brought here today.”

I quickly open the large folder, anxious to show her the fruits of my labor (and delivery).

There are baby footprints inked at the hospital, a lock of newborn hair too fragile to handle. Lost teeth, certificates for library summer programs, report cards, and class pictures. Paintings, crayon drawings, necklaces made of dried pasta. Letters from grandparents loved and lost, newspaper clippings, baseball team pictures, autographs of famous people, and movie ticket stubs.

Random reminders of a childhood that slipped through my fingers.

Junk, really. To any other human being who isn’t a mother.

I wonder what she’ll think of the job I did as she sifts through the things with efficiency and tact. I want her to be careful with them, but I hesitate to say anything for fear of sounding rude. Then again, with those fancy fingernails, she might damage something.

Or break a nail.

She stops thumbing through my things and pulls out her notes.

“Now then, I have a few questions to ask you. These are standard questions at this point in your career, but your answers might determine your exit strategy so please think carefully before you answer.”

A tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak leaves my lips. I hope she didn’t hear it.

“Did you let him play in the rain? Catch tadpoles at the creek? Did he see museums and movies, plays and magic shows? Was he allowed to get dirty, taste the snow, wade into the freezing cold surf, bury his sister in the sand?”

“Was he taught to be kind, to think of others?  Does he have a pet? Did you make his home a soft place for him to land when he falls? To read? To relax? Chase a dream, develop a passion?”

“Were there scraped knees, bloody noses, toothless grins in Christmas card pictures? Did you tell him about the Great Turkey, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, only to have to come clean later? Did you help him dig to China in the sandbox? Make a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones? Finger-paint in the house?”

“Did you ever just sit and watch a field of cows graze, hang out in the backyard hoping to see a shooting star, look for owls, go fishing at dusk, or hike an incredible hike? Was he ever allowed to spend the day in his jammies, eat ice cream for dinner, or just sleep until noon?”

“Did you enforce the rules, dole out punishments, make him apologize, send him to his room? Did he have to make amends, write thank-you notes, remember to say “please”, and be nice to teachers?”

“Can he tie his own shoes, pack a suitcase, use a payphone, schedule an appointment, brush his teeth, make his bed, keep track of his own money, build a campfire, open a small carton of milk, mow the lawn, pump himself on the swing, ride a bike?”

She pauses here, giving me a chance to take it all in. I am so nervous, feeling that there must have been something that I overlooked, one or two major steps along the way that I neglected to take. I nod my head, maybe a bit too tentatively, and wait for her to pepper me with more questions.

“Well then, it seems that everything is in order. You still have some time remaining in your current position, but I am recommending that you be considered a candidate for the next level, Mother to a Young Adult. I will forward the paperwork sometime in the next few months.”

I am stunned. Shouldn’t there be more questions to ask? Maybe a lie-detector test?

“That’s it, that’s all you need from me? Are you sure? How can you really know that I’ve done my job well enough to move on? How will I really ever know? Is there a salary increase with this new level? What about vacation pay? Does this skirt make my butt look big? How do we really know that Humpty Dumpty was an egg?”

She stands up and smoothes out her skirt, pushing her chair back in as she heads for the door. As she reaches the door she stops, turns, and looks me in the eye.

“This career is what you make of it. There are no right and no wrong answers. What you do with it is your choice. Once you are promoted to the next level, there is no going back. The hours can be pretty crappy, the pay is lousy, and your insubordinates can be, well, insubordinate. But don’t get me wrong; this is a lifetime career. The positions may change along the way, but you will always be employed.”

She walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.

I slowly gather my treasures and put them back into the file folders, ready to return them to the drawer at home. No ribbons or certificates for me here today, not even a candy bar or a pat on the back.

But I do a little happy-dance, just because I can.

The rewards of motherhood are immeasurable, and can’t be compensated with cash, prizes, or chocolate.

I will never know for sure if I did a good job, but I do know that I did my best.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve earned that promotion.


  1. Sherri I am so excited for your family! But also a little sad for you…I can’t imagine one of my kids leaving home. You are a wonderful mother, one I look up to, striving to be more like you. I KNOW you did your best.

    The rewards of motherhood are amazing aren’t they?


  2. Wendy @ mama one to three says:

    This is wonderful I can only imagine sitting in that chair but I know it will feel similar — and too quick.

  3. I might cry.

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. It’s amazing, Sherri. Totally amazing. Will you be my mom? 😉

  4. This is absolutely priceless! There is no doubt your job will never end, but I’d guess you’ve done an incredible job up to this point!

  5. I loved this one then, and I love it now.

    Happy day girlfriend.

    A few sob-n-sniffles are for sure warranted, but wow is he ever going to shine!


  6. Bettie Woollard Delury says:

    My sister, Marilyn told me that we have a cousin who is blogging, so I went surfing the internet and found you! My mother is your dad’s aunt. I don’t know if you remember going camping in the Redwoods, back when we were little.
    Anyway, I am impressed with your writings! I believe we are in the same place in our journeys as mothers. I have a 20 yr. old, still living at home and going to the community college and my 17 yr old daughter graduated from high school a year early and is planning to go to a private college in January.
    I’m on facebook, if you would like to add me as a friend. It would be nice to connect with you again.

  7. this post truly made me stop and think…and then i cried. i am just beginning the job – a newbie, if you will – and i only hope that i will be able to give my kids the experiences they need and deserve.


  8. This remains one of my favorite blog pieces of all time. Of all the kazillion I have read. Mostly because it’s impeccably written, but much because I am looking at that event horizon. (I know, I know…Child B and Child C will get there first, but Child A is MINE.)

    I was thinking of you yesterday – and sending loving thoughts to you. It’s all going how it’s meant to be, and the reason it’s happening so smoothly and so quickly is because YOU did such an incredible job.


  9. Absolutely love it! I am going to link back to this in my next post. Everyone should read this, thank you for writing it.

  10. You have me in tears. This was an amazing post! We sure do fly through the levels of this career, but it is a lifetime position.

    Thinking of you this weekend, hoping all went well!

  11. This is perfection. Absolute perfection!

    I hope everything went well. You are an amazing, amazing mom!

  12. This is perfect. I am so excited for you, but I am sure there is some element of the bittersweet as well. Thank you for sharing this 🙂 and good luck in your new “position”.

  13. Loved this the first time I read it. Love it still. And I hope this weekend was beautiful for you guys.

  14. I loved this post the first time around, thanks for sharing again! Congrats on this next stage of life.

  15. Exit Interview is one of my all time favorite posts EVER and not just of yours, but of anyone’s. I mean that sincerely.

    Crazy that you wrote it a year ago. Thank you for sharing it here again.

    Here’s to your family’s new chapter. xoxo

  16. This day is most definitely a “game changer”!

    I hope you weren’t too sad to let him go! It will be an adjustment for all, but a good one at that.

  17. This was one of the very first pieces of yours that I read.
    I loved it then and I adore it now.

    I am elated for Michael and I am so very proud of you for encouraging him to reach for his dreams.

    You inspire me, my dear friend. I hope that some of your courage rubs off on me by the time we have to send Katie off to school.

  18. Today’s my first day to read this, as I didn’t know you last year. I’m bawling. Just bawling over the truth in this post. The heartfelt emotion. The job of motherhood – you’ve captured it perfectly.

    I hope that this weekend has gone well for you all.

  19. Dang it, that’s beautiful. If you’re even half the mom that you are a writer, you did an amazing job.

  20. I think this might have been the first post of yours I ever read. I had just started Twitter.

    And had written only a couple of posts on my own blog.
    I had no idea what I was doing.

    But I read this and thought, “There’s something to this whole blogging thing. Wow.”

    You’ve been an inspiration ever since.

    Congratulations on this milestone, Sherri. I am teary-eyed over the joy and nostalgia of it all.

    Job. Well. Done.

  21. This blew me away. Really well-written and I’m sending it to my girlfriend who just sent her twins off to college and to Julia at wordsxo who did too.
    You did good, Mom-of-a-college-kid. A whole lotta good parenting went into that departure – and there will be a big return home when your child has their own kids. (-:

    • Ado, if your friend is having a hard time, maybe pass on this quote to her from Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Love that.

  22. Yes, just as fitting today as the first time I read it …
    it is a beautiful piece to be shared many times over!

  23. Oh, this is lovely. All of it. How fast time goes!

  24. Congratulations on the promotion! I’m a little further down the road — one in college, one OUT of college (blogged about it today, too) and I can definitely say you’re qualified for the promotion. The question is are you READY for the promotion? Me? Still looking for that answer. I’d love your take on my post today, too 🙂


  25. You kill me, you know that? (in a good way of course…)

    The way you wrote this is nothing short of amazing. And now, I have the perfect “to do” list of things to do with my kids before they leave the nest.

    Thank you. xoxo

  26. Reading this post makes me never want to blog again because it is all said so beautifully here. So perfect.

    And hugs to you today as he sets off on this big fabulous adventure. xoxo

  27. Oh the Exit Interview! Like Julie, one of the first that I read – and it totally made me fall in love with you.

    Can’t believe he’s leaving for college at last! Next thing you know, you’ll be blogging about graduation. Crazy.

  28. being mom to a kindergartner this is too much for me. teared up a bit.

  29. First of all, congratulations to all of you! Such a wonderful accomplishment all around. You’ve for sure earned that promotion. This post was so beautiful on so many levels, but it really moved the most by pointing out how fast it all moves no matter how endless our days might seem now. Thanks for sharing it again, so glad to have caught it the second time around!

  30. Love this! This is what my blog is all about – living joyfully after the kids are grown. And we never stop being moms, do we? This post is a good reminder that, if you DO have kids still at home, focus on the important things. Thanks!

  31. I love this post! I hope I can say yes to all the things you did! Time is flying with my little guy.

    I hope the transition goes smoothly.

  32. I read your wonderful work a lot, have laughed with you and shed more than a few tears, but have never commented. This time, though, you got me. I have one a year behind you, currently whining about college essays. I alternately fear this day – and couldn’t be more excited about it. (And not just because DD and I are already fighting about who gets his closet!) This is really, really lovely… and I felt every word of it. Thanks for sharing..

  33. Perfect, Sherri, just perfect!