Off to College

by Marcia Mangum Cronin

We delivered my older daughter to the University of Virginia on Saturday to begin her first year. Friends warned me that the good-byes and the ride home would be tough. In some ways, they weren't as bad as I expected. The trip up went smoothly, the roommate was friendly and the dorm room looked great with all the colorful new furnishings. I admit to a few tears when it came time to say good-bye and a few more during the three-hour ride home (that seemed much longer). But my daughter's excitement and the newness of the day spared me from total breakdown.

For me, the tough times came at other, sometimes unexpected moments. My grieving over "last" occurrences started about a year before she left: the last time I'd take a "first day of school" picture of my two daughters; the last time she'd help me get Christmas decorations out of the attic and share my silly enthusiasm over every little holiday tradition; the last we'd have a birthday party for her at home. As departure got closer, those "lasts" bombarded me:  the last day her friends gathered to swim in our pool; the last time I'd fix her favorite meal; the last time I'd buy her yogurt; the last time she'd walk the dog.

Now that she's gone, I have other moments—and more tears: I glance in her empty room and her absence stares back; I start thinking about what she might want for dinner and realize she won't be eating with us; I don't have to sort my daughters' laundry because there's only one daughter at home now.

It sounds corny, but if you've been there, you get it. Intellectually, I know we'll see each other regularly, and I'll still do her laundry and fix her favorite meals when she comes home. Intellectually, I know this is the next phase, and I'm excited to watch her become an adult and find her place in the world.

But in my heart of hearts, I know our relationship and our family won't ever be quite the same. She has grown up. She is on her own. The house is quieter. When she comes home again, it will be as an independent adult. I'm sure I will still enjoy her company, possibly even more so than when she was a kid, but I will miss that everyday presence, that everyday connection. I will miss the constant sharing of moments, the knowing glances, the quick smile (or smirk), the understanding without words.

About eight years ago, when my girls were not yet teens, a friend whose children were going to college told me that God makes teenagers so you'll be willing to let them go. At the time, I couldn't imagine wanting my children to leave home. Still, I trusted that she was right. The night before my daughter left, as I cried in bed, I told my husband that my friend had lied to me … I wasn't ready.

To my younger friends, I say enjoy every moment with your children. It will be hard the first time you take them to day care or leave them with a sitter. It will be hard when they enter school. And, if you're lucky like me, it will be hard when they go to college. That connection and that closeness is a gift—cherish and nurture it!

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