Two years ago, we dropped our middle child off at college for her freshman year. The days leading up to it were intense. There was so much I wanted to say to her, and yet, most of what I said came out wrong.
Although I make my living as a writer, I was at a loss for how to say goodbye.
Driving into the school, we were met with huge balloons, archways made of streamers, and happy greeters all there to make my daughter, and us, feel welcome and wanted. But the excitement did not penetrate the wall of fear both of us had.
We unpacked in a bit of trance. We went to separate orientation meetings where people spoke about what to expect in the coming year, but neither of us could digest the words.
Finally, it was time for us to leave; she was to walk in one direction, toward her future while we went the other way.
My husband and I got into our car and headed home. None of us cried, but only because we were holding it in until later that evening.
It’s August again, and while two years have passed, saying goodbye is still difficult. Our daughter has been home for four months. I’ve gone back to doing her laundry and making her meals while she interned during the day. We’ve returned to our routine of binging Netflix, giving each other opinions about what we are wearing and helping pick nail polish colors.
She offers her little brother advice on high school and girls. He’s tried explaining Fortnite to her and convinced her to join a family fantasy football league. The two of them have run to Shake Shack when they don’t like my dinner choices and to the local ice cream parlor whenever they can. She and her dad go on runs together. We shared family dinners and game nights and vacation.
She has re-entered our lives, and in some ways it’s like she has never left—which means we have to let go all over again.
In many ways, college drop off this time is easier. We know she enjoys school and has a lot of friends. We’re confident she can take care of herself. She has matured while living away at school, so I have less fear about her going off on her own. She is not the scared little girl we left at her dorm two years ago.
We hoped that college would help her to grow, learn and become independent. She has done all that and more.
I also know this is a good time for our family. My husband and I can spend more quality time with our son, more time with each other, and more time with friends that we haven’t seen since the kids were little. We have grown in our careers and even picked up some hobbies.
It may just take a little time to get used to her seat at the table being empty—again.
This year, she even took her own car to school and doesn’t need our help to unpack. But, the hardest part of this goodbye is knowing that after this summer, there may never be another where she lives with us. She may intern in another state—or even another country—and after that, she could go to graduate school or secure a job far from where we live.
While I know we will all be okay, that doesn’t mean I know what to say when she leaves or that I won’t cry when we have to say goodbye. I won’t ever get used to my once upon a time baby girl walking out the door, but the one thing that stays the same is that the key is under the mat whenever she wants to come back.