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What I Wished I Had Known Before My Daughter Left for College

It’s 5:00 o’clock on a Saturday…. No, there is no regular crowd shuffling in, thank you Billy Joel. Let’s begin again, shall we? It’s 5 o’clock on a steamy late-August Mississippi afternoon. My husband and I along with our two daughters have been unloading two SUV’s packed so full you could only use the side mirrors to see what was happening behind you when driving since 9:00 AM.

Like thousands of other parents, we are moving our oldest into her first college dorm room. We have done all the things; climbed stairs with arms near the breaking point, because no one wants to wait 30+ minutes for the elevator, unrolled rugs, made beds, hung clothes on skinny velvet hangers, organized toiletries, and hair tools. Shoes have been stashed, mirrors hung along with artwork, bathrobes, and the special photos from home. The minifridge and snack baskets are tucked away filled to the brim. We have hung drapes, special lighting, and cute things on the door. We have figured out exactly how many extension cords are needed to watch Netflix in bed, charge your phone, text, and air pop popcorn; preferably all at once. We have fluffed ALL of the pillows after rearranging them at least twice, artfully displayed the end of bed throws and sufficiently documented everything for Social Media. AND then, we reach that magical hour.

My husband, quietly leans over to me and murmurs, “I think it’s time.” Time? For what?? Oh…. it is TIME to leave. Not as in go to dinner and spend the night at a local hotel. It is TIME to LEAVE. Physically, metaphorically. It is time to drive away from our beautiful, talented, first born child and leave her over 600 miles away from us. REALLY??

In my mind’s eye I see her leaping from the edge of the nest. Arms out wide, eyes shut, wind in her hair and a huge grin on her face…. Will she drop or soar? Struggle with school, be homesick, make lifelong friends? Will she find her life path? The love of her life or have her heart broken? Will she learn from her mistakes or flounder trying to recover? Will she return to us? Will she remember what we have taught her? So MANY questions!! Questions that only time could answer.

I took a deep breath, bent down to tie my sneaker (that did not need tying) and tried to keep my brain from spinning out of control. Of course, she will soar and make lifelong friends. There is a path for her to discover, maybe several! Her heart will be broken, probably more than once. She might even break a few hearts in the process. Absolutely she will flounder, struggle, learn from her mistakes, and remember what we taught her. She will make a mess of things, clean up after herself and most importantly she will earn an education; academically and personally. As I finished tying my shoe, I peaked over at our daughter standing in the hallway. She was radiant, chatting with her roommate and a few girls from down the hall. Relaxed, comfortable, like she had known them all of her life. She was at home. As I slowly exhaled the big breath I had been holding in, I stood up and pushed a bigger than Texas, former drill team dancer at half-time smile across my face, placed my purse on my shoulder and replied to my husband who knew every single thought that had just flown through my mind and said “Yes, you’re right. It is time to leave.”

We hugged her tightly, kissed her goodbye, offered a few reminders, then walked down the stairs. As we settled in the car and drove away, our youngest kept eyeing me from the backseat, waiting for the dramatic collapse. It never happened.

So, what do I wish I had known before I dropped her off? I wish I had known how easy it was going to be. As usual, what I had built up in my head was nothing like reality. I walked out of that dorm room, down the stairs and got in the car fully at peace. I had envisioned a struggle to keep my emotions in check and not fall to pieces in front of my daughter and all ten floors of her new friends. What kept that from becoming a reality? Because she was so at ease, I knew that she was prepared and in the right place. Most importantly, she did too. Don’t get me wrong, not everything was unicorns and rainbows all four years or even all of that first semester. But the part that made it possible to walk down those stairs was that her father and I could clearly see her happiness. Everything else was up to her.

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