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College Drop Off: It’s Hard to Say the Big Goodbye

My husband remained fairly calm and cool during the run-up to the Big College Goodbye. Of course, there was SO much to do leading up to it: the ride to the college, unloading the car, rearranging the room to better accommodate three girls with more clothes than Beyoncé. With all of these responsibilities, he was fairly busy. And, as the only dad who could figure out how to get those Command Hooks to work, he was also in high demand along the dorm hall.

It wasn’t until the actual moment that we left our daughter on college drop off day that he morphed into a different person. He grabbed her shoulders and suddenly spewed advice—about studying, about managing money, about avoiding “bros,” about doing good things for humanity.

I watched in horror as my husband just put everything out there. I’d already shed many tears and gotten weepy at various points during the course of the drop-off while he calmed me down. At this point, I just wanted to get on the road so we could get back home at a reasonable hour. Where was this man earlier?

Meanwhile, my daughter was too busy trying to figure out where the party was that night to properly appreciate these last minute pearls of wisdom.

Fast-forward several months to November when my daughter came home for Thanksgiving. As I dropped her off at the airport to return to school, the same phenomena ensued, THIS time from my daughter. As we parked and I prepared to unload the car, she stopped me.

“I want to quit the rowing team. It’s harder than I thought and it’s affecting my social life,” she said. “And, I’m going to a fraternity formal with a boy I met. He’s kind of cute. I hate my ethics class—the teacher isn’t teaching me anything. Can I drop it?”

Before I could process any of this information, she was opening the door and yanking her suitcase and backpack out of the trunk.

“Let’s go—my flight is leaving.”

And then we were rushing into the terminal, checking her in, and dropping off her bag. The she gave me one last hug and said, “Bye, Mom. See you at Christmas!”

I think my mouth was still hanging open as she disappeared into the security line.

I paused, trying to remember everything I’d just heard in the space of 60 seconds. We’d had almost five days together to discuss all, or any, of these seemingly important topics in a more leisurely, thoughtful manner. Why now? And, why all in one breath?

Clearly, the “Goodbye spew” is genetic. I texted my daughter 20 minutes later, assuming she’d cleared security.

“Umm, can we talk about all this. This is a lot to drop on me just before you leave,” I tapped out. “Why didn’t you bring up any of this sooner?”

All I got was a succinct, “I’ll text you when I land.”

And she did, but we never had much of a real discussion on most of the topics, except for quitting the rowing team, which she ultimately did drop. I was left puzzled, again, as to what prompted the last minute info dump that left me feeling so unsettled.

Why is Saying Goodbye to my Daughter so Tough?

Psychology experts claim that these last minute bursts stem from the fact that most of us don’t like to say goodbye—and we aren’t very good at it. Goodbyes force us to recognize a change in our path, an acknowledgement that we’re choosing (or sometimes being forced) to move away from one thing to the next.

When we were young children, we would cry or stamp our foot to manage the transition. But that behavior isn’t allowed as an adult. So we do other things, like unburden ourselves at the last minute as a cleansing ritual.

We have so many feelings when we’re trying to say goodbye that we suddenly want to express everything because we know time is getting short. So we get needy and try to command attention. In the case of my husband and daughter, this means spilling all sorts of information designed to make their loved ones sit up and listen.

Instead of pulling away from the emotional discomfort of a goodbye or departure, I’m hoping my daughter (and my husband) will learn to have these conversations earlier and often. And maybe the answer lies in choosing a better setting for our goodbyes, rather than the actual drop-off or physical departure. Either way, now that the college years are here, I’m learning to accept all of the feelings that get expressed. Whenever—and wherever—it happens.

Christine Washburn is a mother, high-tech marketing executive and former speechwriter who lives in Massachusetts with her family. She copes with New England winters by eating copious amounts of chocolate, wearing extra socks and madly scanning the sky for sunlight.  You’ll find her work in Blunt MomsGrown and and numerous high-tech publications.

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