It has been nearly two weeks since I dropped my oldest child at a huge university thousands of miles away from home. For me, it has not been a great two weeks.
My feelings remind me of the start of my baby girl’s life. After those first chaotic, emotional few weeks, I called my college best friend, who had a baby 4 months earlier, and said, “Why did you not tell me about all the crazy post-birth trauma I would experience?” And she said: “Because you would not have believed me.”
Here are things I wish I had known about the weeks following college drop-off. Of course, all parent-child relationships are different, as are all college atmospheres. But I would not have believed these things to be true a month ago.
1. The actual drop-off was not that emotional. There are just so many things TO DO. My daughter’s college is two plane flights away, so there were logistics to deal with. Mailing boxes. Packing suitcases. Spending hundreds of dollars at Bed Bath & Beyond for things like bedbug mattress protectors and shower shoes. By the time you get to your kid’s actual dorm, you are just so thankful other students are there to help cart all those things up to the 19th floor of the freshmen tower. You sweat, you figure out how those darn Command strips work on cinder block walls, you get hangry, you finally get everything moved in, and maybe do one more run to Target (for snacks). When you finally leave, you are all exhausted and pretty much just want to hug and say, “Bye, Felicia!!!”
2. It hits you when you get home, back to reality. I was not prepared for the feeling of being back home, where her bedroom, with all the Polaroids on the wall of her and her friends, is right next door to mine. The first morning, I went into her room and cleaned: changed the sheets, put away the pile of high school sweatshirts she decided not to take, and vacuumed. In her closet, I found a parting gift in the form of a hamper full of dirty laundry. A month ago, I would have been livid at the mess. Instead: “Yay! I can still do one more load of her laundry!” When I was done, I just shut the door. No need to face that emptiness every day.
3. The littlest things will make you miss them SO much. Besides having her general sweet presence around, these are things I miss. I miss her fighting with her younger brother. I miss the way she talks to the dog. I miss her shoes spread all over the garage floor, even though there are baskets right there to put them in. I miss her snacks. I went to the grocery store and saw pretzel rods and got teary, because there’s no need to buy them anymore. I miss having high school soccer games to go to. I miss hearing her coming up the stairs after we are in bed, with her late-night nosh of crunchy things. I miss cooking in the kitchen and rolling my eyes as she sits nearby watching The Kardashians.
4. You will cry at the most unexpected times. I did not shed an avalanche of tears until day 10. I was walking the dog when I saw a good friend of my daughter’s drive by. She stopped to talk and I was so excited! And then she drove away and I got wistful. I miss her friends so much! So many years of girlfriend laughter. I went to the grocery store later that day and saw a friend who asked how my daughter was doing at college. I burst into tears, right in the middle of Safeway. Beware of day 10!
5. The lack of communication with your child will slay you. On a good day, she responds to texts with a monosyllabic response. (“How was your first day of classes?” “Good!”) On a great day, she calls and my husband and I rush to the phone, put it on speaker, and hover over it, relishing every detail. (My own parents still do this when I call them. Oh, how I finally get it! They just want to hear us!) And then, there are so many days when you get nothing, know nothing. After 18 years of knowing pretty much everything, this is the toughest thing.
6. You will have moments of joy. She is in a new environment in a different state. She has made friends. She is excited about the classes she is taking. She is living independently. She is happy. We did it! Despite my feeling of loss, this is the mantra I keep repeating.
Meanwhile, my best friend from college — the one I called after my daughter was born, who told me nothing could have prepared me for the emotions of motherhood — is sending her own first-born to college in a few weeks. I’m sure she’ll read this, but I don’t expect her to believe me… yet.