I watched Brent drive away one night last week. He was going back to Manhattan.
That isn't anything new. Since he graduated from high school in 2006, he's driven away from his childhood home many times.
But this time was different. This time, he was starting the first leg of a journey that would take him beyond the familiar landmarks of the County Line and Manhattan and on to a new adventure.
On January 10, Brent will begin working on his master's degree in sports administration at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. It's a 19-hour drive from Manhattan, but it seems lightyears away for his mother.
On New Year's Eve, we loaded a dresser and night table from his childhood bedroom into the U-Haul. We added the TV stand he'd made in high school shop class and a few other boxes. On January 2, we went to Manhattan to load his possessions from his house there. Then we took off for South Carolina.
But it was his driving away from the County Line earlier in the week that caused tears to flood my eyes.
When I hugged him, he knew I was struggling with the moment.
"It's not like I haven't left before," my practical guy told me.
No, I admitted to him. But it's different this time. Instead of seeing a fully-grown man taking off into his future, I was seeing that little guy with the K-State backpack, ready to begin another year of school. But this time, he wasn't boarding a school bus. He was taking off for an unfamiliar life, halfway across the country.
Before he left, he went outside to say goodbye to Ralph, his dog.
"I'm going outside to hug my puppy," he told me. Well, Ralph hasn't been a puppy for years and the black coat of his youth is now speckled with gray.
So maybe, just maybe, my big guy was thinking just a little bit about the past, too.
He drove away after dark. That's nothing new either. My night owl is at his best in the twilight hours. As his headlights disappeared from view when he passed the northern shelterbelt, I looked up at the sky.
Yes, it will be different not having either of my "babies" living in their home state. But the same sky and stars that blanket a winter night in Kansas will be twinkling in South Carolina. They shine above Jill in Nebraska.
So when I look up at the sky, I know those same stars are shining down on them. They may be in a different position in the sky.
But they will be twinkling nonetheless.