Just came back from a lovely bat mitzvah. The sweet girl was poised and tender. All of a sudden, from that playful child, glimpses of an emerging young woman could be seen. This milestone seemed to help Sara gain confidence, surrounded by nurturing family, as she prepared for her dive into bigger waters.

But as I watched her loving parents address her, beaming and wiping away tears as they talked, I wondered if the bat mitzvah was maybe even more significant for them—a framed moment in time to take pride, to help formalize the transition, to prepare them for a different relationship with their child/girl/woman.

I watched her loving parents address her

I thought back, remembering how each of our bar and bat mitzvah celebrations helped us wrap our minds around that wondrous minefield of emerging adulthood that our children were inching their way into. Already! Stepping gracefully one moment, floundering and storming the next.

Like all teens, our kids were a brew of hormones flowing, driven towards independence. Mom and Dad, we hoary parents, were praying to strike that magical balance between discipline and authority, mentorship and letting them try their wings.

As they got ready to face a confusing world, we were glad for every morsel of morals, values, lessons, inspiration they’d gotten, and wished we’d given them more ultra-super-duper-soul-protecting-and-enhancing vitamins. (Why was I too tired to read another bedtime story of the sages so many nights? Why didn’t we make Shabbat more fun and meaningful?) They’d need every vital drop of Torah infusion we managed to muster up. Though we tried to give fortified doses of Jewish pride, joy, knowledge, we didn’t teach or live insularity. Finding balance between drawing in the good from the world without the garbage, while connecting strongly and vibrantly enough with their roots, was, and is, an ever-challenging tightrope act. And teens will test that tightrope to its limits, hanging over the edge, bouncing till it seems it’s going to fray.

As we settled well into our fifties, we’d ushered most of our kids through the teen years, and were thinking we’d gotten this stage pretty well nailed. But this September, something startling, unreal happened. Another major milestone.

Our very youngest children, our twins, headed off for a boarding high school, where they’d be able to receive a more complete Jewish education.

They flew the coop . . .

Those demanding, precious, wonderful, sometimes incessant and annoying, beautiful young teens—they’re gone.

The last few weeks of August were filled with frantic shopping, packing, filling out forms, as we got the twins ready for school, in New York, some 750 miles away. And then. The day came. Accompanied by their dad, Chana and Fayga left, they were up and off. I drove the three to the Chinese Bus stop—kissed, hugged, teared up—and let them go. Returning, I retraced the highway, my barren car with its empty trunk rattling down the road. With an unreal feeling, I pulled up in the driveway, and let myself into an empty, empty, quiet house. I hung up my keys, threw down my purse. Turned on a few lights. Opened the fridge. Stared inside, wondering, Who will eat the leftovers? What to do now?

I was tempted to turn something on. The electronics—the texts, the gadgets, the computer, that ubiquitous Facebook—stood ready to embrace me, to fill the stillness with chatter, mask the silence, dull the reality.

I kind of wanted to hear the silence, absorb the impact, but with a ding and a text and a zing every few minutes it was hard to even feel the quiet.

As I looked at the walls and wondered what to do next, I suddenly related to my single and older friends more fully. In all the years of busy chaos, I often yearned for this empty space. Now that this vast open plain stretched in front of me, I wondered if that longed-for quiet would really be so golden. It’s solitary.

This year, the same in which I’m sending off the kittens who won’t call Mommy each time they’ve lost their mittens, my biological clock rang with a resounding dong. After several years of inching in that direction, I have become an official wizened crone, crossing the threshold of menopause. The external loss of kids underfoot echoes the biological finality.

I’m liberated from, and I sorely miss, their debris, their drop-offs and pick-ups, their demands. I wandered back into Chana and Fayga’s room to pick up the remnants of the packing fury, folding a sweater left thrown on the floor, gathering up a few stray Walmart and Target tags, longingly prolonging their presence in the house.

I felt unanchored, floating, without the routine, the safe, the known.

“Bedtime, honey. Nine-fifteen, tomorrow’s school. Lay out your clothes.”

For so many years, I’d been repeatedly pulled back, often begrudgingly, from the edge, from new horizons, unknown vistas, to a sweet world of daily routine, responsibility, laundry to fold, order so lovingly rhythmic and regular.

They’re gone. They’ve separated.

But when they stretch those lovely, fragile, barely hatched wings of confident immortality and fly, flapping tentatively, gaining strength—then no one needs the day-to-day, nagging, annoying, clinging Mommy.

No suckling babes, downy heads melting into my shoulder. No separation anxiety. They’re gone. They’ve separated. Out there, released, flying, falling, creating their lives.

We talk, we bond, but—I don’t know all those mommy details, what they ate, wore, did every day.

I ran alongside your wobbly bike, cheering, stabilizing, catching the falls. Then, suddenly—you’re off, careening down the block, pedaling away . . .

And quiet days of empty, lonely—wondrous possibility—are waiting.

If I can get on my bike too.