They’ll Always Be Our Babies {An Airport Goodbye}


As a kid, I bought into the idea that the parenting pinnacle was year 18. You raise your kids, get them through high school, and send them off into the world. Then you get to rest peacefully in your empty nest.

Maybe there is some truth to that. But after becoming a parent, I learned a greater truth:

They’ll always be our babies.


In the security queue before a recent flight, I spotted a dad and his college-aged daughter, with long blonde hair framing her tear-streaked face. This is where loved ones have to say goodbye, the divider between where you were and where you’re going.

She brushed back hair and tears and hugged her dad tightly. He appeared to calmly speak words of encouragement to his daughter. I’ve always had a soft spot for goodbyes and reunions at airports (the intro to Love Actually, anyone?), and my eyes welled with tears.

She finally entered the queue, and I expected to watch her dad walk toward the airport exit. But he didn’t.

His feet were planted, and he gazed at his daughter as she inched through the line.

I looked back and forth between the two. She wiped the back of her hand across each swollen eye. His thumb and forefinger pinched his nose beneath round-framed glasses. I blinked to stifle the empathy rushing behind my eyes.

And he watched her. His fixed stance revealed that he had no intention of leaving until she was through security and out of sight. He seemed to even lean forward as if there was a string connecting the two.

But the truth is, isn’t there? An invisible but almost tangible tie between us and our children, no matter how old they are.

Mine are still young, with lingering baby cheeks and adorably mispronounced words. They let me dote on them and snuggle them. I’m constantly surveying our surroundings for safety, and I’m at the ready to protect and guide their little hearts through hurt and disappointment. Each season, I have to trust and release a little more of them as they navigate the world.

But the more I observe parents of young and middle-aged adults, I see the same love I give my 5- and 3-year-old boys. The protection, the concern, the bond that cannot be severed by time, distance or circumstance.

They still want us to text when we arrive home safely. We still get unsolicited – but often wise – life coaching. We still tear up when they ask if we’re ok on a bad day.

I don’t know the true father/daughter airport story, but I won’t soon forget this visceral moment and the enduring bond between parent and child. Instead of finding relief in a parenting job-well-done at their high school graduation, I will find joy in knowing they can and will always be our babies.



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