What it feels like when your child goes off to college


You drop your pride and joy off at college. You pull into your daughter’s new dorm full of nerves and excitement. You’re not sure what to feel, but you don’t have time to focus. The squad of resident assistants and greeters is on top of you in minutes to help unload your SUV brimming with boxes and clothes. What took hours to pack, gets unloaded in minutes in one big chaotic mess.

You stick around to help clean and decorate the new room, but you begin to feel like a third wheel. If your life were a movie, this would be the point where the director would cue the melancholy music. You know the time to leave is coming fast.

You load up on groceries together walking aimlessly through the store. You know that your daughter probably won’t even touch half the stuff since she has a meal card, but you still throw an extra box or two of granola bars into the cart. “You just never know,” you tell yourself.

study-763571_1280Finally the time has come to leave. The music stops. Everything becomes a blur. You feel like your heart has just been ripped out of your stomach. The daughter that you’ve cared for, nurtured, shared more than a few laughs, dreams and tears is getting ready to start-out on her own. You’re shook up, but you notice with shock that your daughter couldn’t be happier, more care-free. 

You say, “C’mon on kid, forget about this idea of going to college six hours away from home. Let’s get in the car and we’ll forget that you ever had this crazy idea.” Your daughter laughs at your joke, but you can tell that she’s just being nice. You know that she’s doing the right thing. It’s her time to shine, her time to spread her wings and start her own life, but you still wish it were easier.

With a sudden pounding force, the time has come to go.

You share a hug and you’re off. You get in the car and make the long drive home. Your spouse and you talk, but the ride home is different. Your sons are in the back of the car fast asleep. You wish you could do the same. You’re not quite sure what to say or what to feel. It feels right and wrong all at the same time.

Finally you get home. You say to yourself that you just need to get in a routine. And you’re right, getting back to your busy life and work schedule helps, but you still occasionally think about her: What’s she doing? What’s she up to? Is she eating right and taking care of herself

You notice the small things now: how the dinner conversation goes in a more “boyish” direction (let’s just say there’s more conversation about bodily functions) and how it’s easier to get a restaurant table when you go out to eat. You can always find a table for four: “Booth or a table? Come right this way.” Go ahead and add one more person and you better be prepared to wait. 

But still you trudge on.

When your daughter calls, you stop everything, no matter the time of day. You can’t wait to hear about her classes and activities. You even get excited to hear about her crazy liberal opinions. (You wonder where you went wrong and then you remind yourself that you’re the fool that told her she should have her own beliefs and to never let another person dictate to her what she can and can not do. You make a mental note to change that approach with the two kids still at home!)

Of course, when she calls and complains about one of her professors, you want to go ballistic. It takes every ounce of patience in your body to not get on the phone and give the prof a piece of your mind. You want to ask them if they know who they’re messing with, your pride and a joy, a future leader of America.

You go on a rampage, but then your wife reminds you that your daughter needs to learn how to fight her own battles. You ask: What I can’t help? I can’t get involved? You’re riled up, but it soon passes.

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Of course the holidays come and go. You see her and then she’s gone in the blink of an eye. Where did the time go? People look at you like you’re crazy, but your heart has been put through the wringer. You’ve gone from a crazy, vibrant family of five, back to a busy, but manageable family of four. Don’t they understand that it takes time to get used to the change?

You haven’t thought about spring break in more than 26 years. All of a sudden, it consumes your day. Finally taking that trip to Daytona Beach like you wanted to take your junior year of college? Reliving your youth? Heck, no. Your daughter is coming home and you get to see her for a full five days.

And again, the week rushes by and is over before you know it. Here today, gone tomorrow. Where’d she go? Back at school, uh, okay you grumble underneath your breath.

But then it comes: The thing you’ve been anticipating all year, the end of the semester. You’ll get to see your daughter for a whole three months — okay maybe only a few weeks of those three months. She’s traveling abroad for school, but she promises you that she’ll stick around “home” long enough to go out for an expensive dinner or two. You laugh, but you’ll take whatever time you can get.

It hits you that you feel like a little kid getting ready for summer break. You couldn’t be happier. And it all starts on Monday!

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2 thoughts on “What it feels like when your child goes off to college

  1. Pingback: Goin’ country – Writing from the Heart with Brian

  2. Pingback: Getting good at saying college goodbyes – Writing from the Heart with Brian

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