Rearview Parenting: Dropping My Daughter Off At College

I built this one up good, friends. Ever since she got that official "Welcome to college!" letter from the university all those months ago, I've been mentally rehearsing it. I've been dreading it and anticipating it and fretting like a mofo about it.

Dropping her off at college. And then driving away.

I imagined the sobbing, the clinging, the sweating (always, with the sweat). I thought long and hard about what my last words to her would be, what nuggets of wisdom and warm gooey maternal love I'd leave her to hold and examine and cherish.

As the pile of her "college stuff" grew in our weird little nook by the sliding glass doors, it became woefully obvious that my tinny little Ford Focus would not be able to carry all of it, plus my daughter and me and the one brother she requested to accompany us. No way. One of my friends, my young pal Alex whom I met at trivia many moons ago, stepped up and said he'd drive us in his SUV. Again, my friends save us. It never fails to get me all kinds of verklempt when it happens.

The BIG DAY arrived...so, so quickly and if a day could sneer, it would have been sneering at me. I woke my girl up, one last time, and as we finished packing the last-minute things, Alex arrived and we began the Tetris game of packing up the vehicle. Alex won:

All clear, Alex! Bravo. 

There was just enough room left inside for Alex, me, Molly and Henry:

If you squint, you can see the college freshman.

Molly's school is about 2 hours away from our house. Two hours! That's all the time I had to chat with my girl before she and I parted ways until Thanksgiving. So, naturally we all played games and facebooked on our phones most of the way.

Are you imagining the tears? Do you think I was like a human sprinkler with the crying that must have been happening?

Nope. There were none. There had been a few the day before, when William gave Molly a goodbye hug before setting out to a sleepover. And several the day before that, when I read a text from a friend, who was sending her little girl off to France:

"Enjoy your time with her as your little girl, she will have changed the next time you see her."

But my eyes were dry that morning. And during the drive. There might have been a few tears shed when we drove down the streets leading to the dorm, past the throngs of rental houses where the older students live. They were all out on their lawns, kegs and camp chairs galore, and several of the students stood, holding signs that said things like:

I'M GOING TO TEACH YOUR SON BULLDOGGIE STYLE! (held by a girl) (the college mascot is a Bulldog, obvs)
AFTER 18 YEARS, I'M HER DADDY NOW (this one was kind of chilling, actually, but made me laugh)
MILFS DRINK FREE! (Alex, slow down! I'm parched!)

And so on and so forth. I'm not a pearl-clutcher, so those signs didn't give me a case of the vapors. In fact, they gave me my first rush of nostalgia as I remembered driving down those same streets 28 years prior. There is no feeling like that in the world, is there? Knowing that you are about to embark on one of the most transforming life-journeys of all...the freedom, the fun, the responsibility...and oh yes, the parties.

It was those feelings I was thinking about as we unloaded the carefully packed car, and with just two giant rolling carts and some manpower, we moved Molly into her new home. I think that's why I wasn't crying. This whole experience is hers, and hers alone. I'd had my time, it was over and done. I was sad, yes, sad that my lone girl-child wasn't going to be around me like she's been for the past 18 years, sad because there was nobody else who would sit on the couch and watch awful television with me, sad because there are always going to be regrets and piles of "should've, could've and would've" thoughts during milestones this enormous.

But this time? It's Molly's time and knowing this kept my head in the right place. Not in the past, not bemoaning my loss...but right there, in the present, helping my daughter take her first steps in this new life. Just as I stood beside her when she first began toddling on her achingly adorable chubby little baby feet, so I stood beside her as we met her roommate, as we put her mattress pad on and made her bed, as we organized and plugged things in.

The pride that filled my heart was colossal. Proud beyond description of my daughter, my sweet lady who overcame painful shyness and some pretty intense anxiety and was now moving to a new city without any of her close friends in tow. Proud of her for not becoming one of the stereotypical "children of single mothers", those kids who, according to some asshat people and politicians, are doomed to a life of hardscrabble times, drugs and alcohol and teen pregnancies and gun violence.

Oh shit. Here come some tears. But not the big ugly cry I've been anticipating. Nope. I don't think that one is going to happen, folks. Maybe it was me preparing myself for this event months in advance. Maybe it was reading other mama's experiences with this scenario and weeping over their photos and words (like my new favorite blogger friend, Amy, and her piece about the drop off...read it here and then when you're done crying come back here to the place where THERE ARE NO TEARS).

Maybe it's because I've done with these feelings as I've done with so many others throughout my life: shoved them down somewhere deep and dark and covered them with Ling Ling's Potstickers and martinis. I am a wee bit worried that this is exactly what's happened and that something is going to trigger me at the wrong place and the wrong time: mayhap it'll be at school when I'm working and I'll see a mama and her kindergarten girl walking out to their car, hand in hand, talking about butterflies and new friends. note to self: don't look at them.

Or maybe, just maybe, all of this growing and changing that my daughter is doing, is also happening within me. Maybe the two of us are approaching separate, but equally major, developments in our lives. She's becoming an adult, living on her own without Mommy in the next bedroom. And me?

I'm watching the city disappear in my rearview, the city my daughter will call home for the next year...and there are no tears. Only love and pride.

P.S. I received my first text from her about 5 minutes after I took that picture. It read, "OMG Mom. I forgot to pack a toothbrush."  She's still my little girl.


  1. Well congratulations because I cried through your whole post! I'm a weepy mess at the end of every summer with send off on the horizon.... And mine are still in Elementry.

    1. Aww thanks Jill! I'm not convinced that this drought will last. It's gotta hit sooner or later!!

      FYI: I was a puddle during the elementary years. It got easier as they got older :)

  2. Awww...well I cried the ugly cry when I dropped my youngest at kindergarten last week. I'm totally blaming it on menopause. Also - I started UMD in 1987 - OMG were you there? Did we party with those older boys???

    1. Um, yeah. Glad nobody was around with a camera when I dropped William off at kindergarten. With the babies of the family, every.single.thing is a "last". That bites.

      And OMG yes, I was there! My gosh. I wonder if I partied with you???

  3. You may not be crying but I am!!! My daughter is about to enter her junior year of high school.........I am mentally preparing to sleep under the bed in her dorm room!

    1. Oh Lisa! You'll be okay, I promise! Prepare to have your mind blown though...junior and senior years go by FAST. Take lots of pics (if she'll let you!)

  4. You may not have cried but I did! This post was reminded me of dropping my son off for the first time a couple of years ago. I cried and cried; mainly from the beginning of his senior year in high school. But when it came time to drop him off, I cried just a little. I think the copious buckets of tears I'd cried helped stem the tide. But as my one and only, it was hard.

  5. I love this ending-- the toothbrush. perfect. She will always be your little girl!

  6. I have SO enjoyed all of your blogs and FB posts this past summer about Molly's graduation and start of college in the big, bad beyond! Bravo to you for being such a supportive mama encouraging your girl to spread her wings. And bravo to Molly for taking that big step. As a child of a single parent, I never would have been brave enough to move away from the nest to go to school. Luckily a major university campus was only about a 20 minute drive away :) Anyway, all the best to Molly this year! I hope she has the time of her life and makes some great friends and memories!

  7. I live on the east side of the east coast...my freshman daughter is now out on the west side of the west coast. :-( I definitely cried. And I won't be seeing her until Christmas due to the colossal chasm of 2578.48 miles between us. :-( Her mascot is a bulldog, too!

  8. This melts my heart. I drove four hours up to deliver one daughter for the beginning of sophomore year. One is home with me whilst attending the local community college. My eldest decided college was not for her, at this stage in her life. I loved and lived the moments they were all under the same roof this summer and together traveling in the same vehicle. I don't want to think of them away from me. Thanks for sharing... you make me stronger.

  9. Love this! Just dropped my son off at Berkeley last week. The best advice I got was to keep in mind that it was HIS experience. I did cry, but not as much as the poor inconsolable mom from Philly that I met on Durant Avenue after we both said goodbye to our sons. She kept saying how much she would miss his presence at home. I totally get that. Who will I watch the new Doctor Who or Big Bang Theory with? We did a serious 9 day road trip through the West Coast right after dropping him off, so that was a good distraction as well. I did go and hang out in his room for a little while today.....

  10. I had a similar experience with my daughter last weekend. As I took a picture of her walkng away from me to find her future, I will admit to a couple of tears...but, I mostly felt pride and happiness that she had found this happy, safe place in which to grow....Meg

  11. After four years and a graduation at a local college, my son went to graduate school one thousand miles away. We spent two days driving up. Three days buying stuff and scoping out the area eating all the while. Just as we took off to go back home and had said goodbye, we realized it was close to lunch time. So we swung around the block, collected him and we all enjoyed a final meal. I have spent five years anticipating this and crying the whole time. It has been the most difficult part of my life so far. I'm hoping it will get easier. My younger son is two years younger and I'm savoring and steeling my myself. Roots and wings, roots and wings...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...