(Note: While I am in Uganda, the Chanhassen Villager is running some of my favorite travel-related columns. This column was originally published on July 3, 2008.)

It was Sunday morning, and my daughter and I were on the 9:30 shuttle from our hotel to the Orlando airport. My husband had to fly out on business the day before, and my son wasn’t able to take the time off work to attend his sister’s graduation in Florida, so it was just the two of us returning home to Minnesota. Two other women were in the van with us.

“Were you here on vacation?” one of them asked as we settled in for the ride.

“No, we’re here because my daughter just graduated from Full Sail,” I answered proudly. I wanted to add, “She was Salutatorian of her class!” but I figured that would have simply sounded like bragging, and would have embarrassed my daughter. It’s fine to share that information with family and friends (and now with everyone reading the Chanhassen Villager), but not with strangers on the trip from the hotel to the airport.

At the mention of Full Sail, both of the women got a confused look on their faces. My daughter is used to this, because few people have ever heard of the college.

“It’s a tech school,” she explained. “It’s focused on the entertainment industry, and on computer animation and design.”

“Oh,” one of them responded, on more familiar ground now. “And where will you be working?”

The question struck me as just a bit presumptuous, since lots of brand new college graduates don’t have a job lined up – and not for lack of trying – by the time the ink is dry on their diplomas. My daughter does, however, and told the woman about the place at which she’ll be working after a short visit home. She then asked the ladies about their reason for being in Orlando, and we found out they were sisters-in-law who had been there for a family wedding and were now going to Atlanta to visit their grandsons and grandnephews.

At the airport, we wished each other well, and they congratulated my daughter once again. The woman who had done most of the talking turned to me and said, “Congratulations to you too, Mom. You deserve a lot of the credit.”

My daughter smiled and nodded in agreement instead of grimacing and rolling her eyes, which is the response I would have expected not so terribly long ago. Seeing that one quick acknowledgement, in addition to hearing her talk so comfortably and confidently with the women on the shuttle, reminded me again how much my daughter has developed and grown in the time she’s been away at school.

Of course, I’d like to “take the credit” for my daughter, and I know I do deserve some. Yet I marvel at all that she is, all that she’s done, and all that she’s become both because of me and in spite of me. And mostly, entirely on her own.

As she – as well as her brother – was growing up, there were so many times when I questioned myself, second-guessed myself, and doubted myself as a mother. But there were also many times when we had what I liked to call “a Mr. Rogers moment” – the times when I felt I said the right thing, did the right thing, and came up with the correct and comforting response to whatever new parenting challenge was placed in front of me. And from the birth of our children to who-knows-when, life is pretty much filled with nothing but new parenting challenges. Still, we do our best and we hope for the best. And after 20 or so years, we get to see the results.

The day we were traveling was my birthday, and after we got home and settled, my daughter showed me the gift she made for me, although she’s not quite finished with it. It’s a short story she wrote, with interactive illustrations, about a mother and daughter who go outside and watch shooting stars flying across the night sky during a meteor shower. They do this together every year as the daughter is growing up. And when she is grown and ready to go off on her own, she tells her mother that no matter where she goes or how far away she lives, she will always think of her when she is out at night, watching for shooting stars.

I cried during the entire time I was reading the story, and as I was running the curser on my computer over the twinkling stars, the lighted window of the house, and the mother and daughter holding hands in the story and the program my daughter created at college. I know I will cry again soon, with tears of joy, of pride, of sadness, and of all the emotions I will go through as she moves back to Florida to start her new job, her new life, and all the new adventures that are still ahead of her.

I suspect that I’ll feel my eyes getting misty every once in a while when it’s late at night and I find myself outside, staring at the sky and watching for shooting stars. At these times, perhaps more than any other, I’ll know that no matter where my daughter is living, or how far away she is, she’s always here, at home, in my heart.

© Betty Liedtke, 2011