Last week, we drove to Connecticut to bring our daughter to college. While she sat in the back seat, selecting songs on her iPod for us to listen to and occasionally blurting out, “I’m going to college!”, my husband and I sat up front, knots in our stomach about the impending goodbye.

For weeks leading up to that fateful day, the emotions in our house ran manic – from nostalgia and anxiety to bliss and off-the-wall frenzy. The moods and behaviors, changing as frequently as the barometric pressure, were not surprising. After all, our baby was leaving home, never to return in the same way as these past nearly 18 years.

There are all types of college drop-off strategies I could share (bring extension cords, for example, and tell your kid to pack way less than she thinks she needs). But that would be too pragmatic and there are lots of sources to turn to for those bits of information. I, on the other hand, prefer to focus on the bigger picture. As in, our daughter has left our nest. I know she will find her way, but will I first have the opportunity to impart some last minute nuggets of love, wisdom and experience?

After schlepping her boxes, clothes, and bedding into her second floor dorm room, the three of us spent several hours unpacking, hanging photos, making the bed, and overall arranging. She asked my opinion about where this or that should go, and I had answers. Just like a mother does.

Once the organizing was complete and she had a cozy place to rest her body for the next nine months, our job was essentially done for the day. We ate lunch in the student union with her roomates and their parents, and then our daughter told us it was time to go. She had a dorm meeting, and “Can we please say goodbye… now?!!!”

We went out to the dorm exit, hugged and kissed, and she then fled quickly down the hall towards her room. My husband and I stood there bewildered, relishing the increasingly faint sight of our child as she walked away. We left the building and ambled toward the parking lot, both of us in a subtle state of shock. We talked about the strangeness of the situation, and how we were now going home to our family of four, as if we’d never see our eldest child again. We knew that was not the case. But somehow, that’s what it felt like.

When I got home, I did what many parents avoid – I entered my daughter’s bedroom. I straightened up and raised the blinds as if she would reappear momentarily and I wanted the room to look nice and welcoming for her. The reality is, though, that there’s a sudden void in our home. We will all adjust. We have no choice. Our daughter is embarking on an exciting adventure. And so are we.

Several hours after returning home, I wrote our daughter a card so she’d have something in her college mailbox. I then sent her an email, asking if she wanted us to ship her bathrobe which she’d left at home. She eventually responded that she didn’t need it now, and later that night, after my husband texted her a goodnight message, she responded that we should stop texting and emailing so she could settle in. She’s right – this is her time and we needed to lay off.

I never did get the chance to whisper my encouraging words into her ear when we hugged goodbye. She was simply too eager to embrace her new surroundings. Perhaps I’ll write them to her in a letter, or she’ll read them here. Because I just want her to know that…

  • despite how many times people (me included) tell her that college is the “best time of your life”, she doesn’t have to like it all the time;
  • our being proud of her should pale in comparison to how proud she should be of herself;
  • life is about balance, and she will learn how to find the balance that works for her;
  • she can use these next four years to explore, take risks, seek intellectual challenge and be adventurous; and most of all,
  • we – her family – are always here for her. No matter where she calls home.