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A Mix of Emotions as I Anticipate My Daughter’s Departure for College

It was a mere 3 minutes and 35 seconds from the time she shuffled her way off the plane and I bear-hugged her to the time she made a snide comment about the “out-of-style” Bermuda shorts I was wearing. She certainly laughed off most of the “annoying” questions I asked about her experience as a camp counselor and rolled her eyes when I asked her if she had finished her graduation thank you notes. “I am working like 24/7, Mom! When do you think I have time to write thank you notes?!” I bit my lip as I recall talking to her days earlier when she was enjoying a day off.

However, within 7 minutes and 47 seconds, we manage to find our rhythm, our connection, our flow of conversation, laced with belly laughter that is unique to us, and which I cherish more than she will ever know. During the hour layover, before we would both fly to Detroit for her college parent/student orientation, we sit down at an airport restaurant, just the two of us. I exhale.

It’s been only two weeks since she left for her summer job, but my time with her seems so much more essential, precious and somewhat fleeting, as she will be leaving for college less than two weeks after she returns home from camp (and will want to be with her friends 98 percent of that time).

As I sit across from my teenage daughter, who has transformed into a beautiful young woman before my eyes—yet still gobbles up her sandwich in half the amount of time that it takes me to eat mine and licks her fingers to boot—we talk and laugh, and my heart feels full again. After not enough time, we hustle to board the plane.

As I take my seat a few rows ahead of her, I realize that this life transition of leaving for college—which we are both currently navigating—has caused me to feel off kilter for the past few months (sometimes severely).

My sense of balance, orientation, and centeredness is askew. The sacred place in my heart and my mind where she has lived is undergoing some reorganization and restructuring.

The “normal” that we have known for 18 years is shifting, and as many times as I tell myself, “My daughter is leaving for college, not moving to Timbuktu; you will see her, talk to her, text her, and skype with her; your relationship does not end, it just changes. And it can be even better than what you’ve known it to be,” I just know myself. I know that my heart will continue to be tugged and jolted for a while. It will take time for me to be able to normalize this statement, “My daughter is away at college.” The word “away” is what gets me.

There is an empty seat next to me and I turn back and get her attention. “Soph, do you want to come up and sit by me,” I ask her with a somewhat pleading look. I follow her eyes and watch her surveying the situation. I know what she is thinking without her even saying a word. She visually assesses that she is in an aisle seat, I am in an aisle seat. If she moves up to sit by me, she would have to sit in a middle seat.

“No, I’m good, Mom,” she smiles and gives me a knowing look. I repeat her words in my head, “I’m good, Mom.”

And she is. She really is. I swivel back around and stare at my computer in front of me, knowing that I will need to try to find the words to describe the mix of joy, pride, sadness, and fear that wells up like a geyser within me.

But she is good.

Sitting on her own. Excited and ready to delve into her next chapter, one that she will write without me sitting next to her. As she designs her new life, her more independent life, I hope and pray that she knows that the seat next to me is always available for her when she needs or wants to sit there (even if it means that I have to move to a middle seat).

Julie Burton is a writer and blogger. You can read her work at or follow her on Twitter @unscriptedmom.

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