No matter how many children you have, when one is missing, something just doesn't feel right.
At first, everything seems easier and calmer. You only have to think about your other child or children. It seems like a mini-vacation from full-time parenting. But after a few days, it reminds you that eventually this will be permanent. You will walk by an empty bedroom when your child goes to college and realize they were only here for a moment.
My daughter has been on a student exchange program in Argentina for two weeks and returns tomorrow. It took me a full week to get used to her being gone. I would pull in the driveway and see her car and assume that she was home, forgetting that she was really 4,000 miles away. I would pause at her closed bedroom door in the hallway and think to knock, and then realize she wasn't there.
Sure, it was a little bit easier in some ways. I only had to think about one child for dinner, one child's needs in the evening after work, one child's activities and social calendar. But there was a notable absence with my oldest daughter gone. It was as if the balance or equilibrium of our family was slightly off kilter.
It made me think about how each of us have such well-defined roles in our families, roles that we might not even realize are that important until the person is gone.
In some ways, maybe this is a preview of what it will be like when she goes to college. No doubt, the house will be quieter, laundry will pile up (because it's her job to fold the laundry), but there will also be a palatable absence, a cog in the wheel of our family will be missing.
For now, I look forward to her return with great anticipation. I can't wait to hear about her adventure and, yes, to settle back into the routine where I stop at her closed bedroom door in the evening and listen to her on the other side laughing while she Facetime's with a friend. I put my hand on the door, I don't need to go in. I just need to know that she's there.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.