06/01/2012 10:01 am ET Updated Aug 01, 2012

How Did She Get That Way? A Mother Reflects On Her College-Grad Daughter

As a stay-at-home mom for twenty years, I did a lot of teaching, modeling, explaining, hand-holding, comforting -- you know... mothering. I also did a lot of learning from both my son Adam, a junior in college, and my daughter Katie, who graduated from Boston University in May.

Katie was one of those children who thought she was an adult. As her mother, I had to understand the difference between her and the other children her age. Sometimes I would wish that she were more like the other kids -- more childish, if you will. Anytime there were family gatherings, Katie would find her way over to the adult table, where she would listen carefully. She would take in everything the adults said -- and didn't say -- and repeat it back to me later, with her own opinions and interpretations. Like being any child's mother, being Katie's mother was filled with moments of complete awe and a bit of confusion: How did she get to be that way? I wondered. No matter -- that was how she was, and that was how I loved her.

As a teenager, Katie found her place among the show choir kids. Oh, the drama! Watching Katie sing was a preview of what the adult Katie would be like; when she was on stage, all of the awkward teenager-ness would disappear and there would be this girl on the verge of becoming a young woman. I went to every single choir show and nearly every competition for four years. Yes, I suppose I was that mom.

Katie and I talk about (nearly) everything. From her first word (dog), we were best friends, and I like to think that, in our own way, we still are. We didn't go through the usual mother/daughter teenage turmoil -- we rarely argued. I feel lucky about that. Even in high school, I was one of Katie's favorite people to spend time with, possibly because I love Broadway music as much as she does.

All of this made Katie leaving home more difficult for me than I could have imagined.

But here's the great thing about your kids growing up: as they move out into the world on their own, they become more and more interesting. I always knew Katie would truly blossom in college, and that's exactly what happened. She got involved in so many things -- bringing her natural skill (and enjoyment) for public speaking to the admissions office; finding a sorority that fit her like a glove; living in London for a semester; and traveling all over Europe with her friends. I was amazed at her confidence and fearlessness about the world. At times I was, again, baffled at this young woman (how did she get to be that way?), but mostly I was thrilled and proud. And as she began to find her self as a young adult, I began to discover who I am after being that stay-at-home mom. We both found ourselves after separating, and brought those selves back to each other again.

When we went to Katie's graduation, there was a moment at dinner the night we arrived when I looked at her -- really looked at her -- and saw that there was not a trace of the little girl left in her. She is an adult, there is no doubt about it. I believe as time goes on, Katie will have more to teach me than I have to teach her. But don't tell her that. I still want to be Mom.