What to Expect when Your Kid Leaves for College


Three days prior: Something will happen to your brain chemistry three days before move-in day, which you will find odd since you’ve been preparing for at least a year. The sheer magnitude of what is happening will somehow manage to absolutely blindside you despite the amount of preparing you’ve been doing the months before: Her chair will be empty at dinner. When you pile up on the couch to start a new Netflix marathon she won’t be part of it. You will walk past her room and it will be abandoned, stripped of her favorite things. You’ll wake up in the mornings and she won’t be there. You are dying and the world is about to end. You know, rational thoughts.

Two days prior: You will have an inexplicable need to be near her as much as possible. You will find yourself randomly compelled to touch her hair and her face like a crazy person which, parenthetically, is her least favorite thing ever. You will find her giving you the kind of side-eye that a woman on a dark street might give to a man she suspects might be a psychotic stalker who plans to wear her skin. She will manage to patiently tolerate you as you stare at her like one of those big-eyed stray animal paintings from the 60’s that used to hang in your Pawpaw Virgil’s house.

^What Kristen saw when she looked at me, all of this week.

“Is this snuggling or smothering, technically speaking?” you will ask yourself.  Self will reply, “Who knows! Not me! Get closer to her.”

One day prior: You will have sudden bouts of absolute panic about what you might not have bought that she might find herself in need of after you are gone. You’ll say something like, “Why did we decide against a bed skirt? OH MY GOD DO YOU THINK YOU NEED A BED SKIRT? LET’S GO BUY A BED SKIRT RIGHT NOW.” The bed skirt will feel life-or-death. You will be literally convinced that the absence of the bed skirt will end life on this planet as we know it. She will be forced to talk you down with her superpowers of sanity and rational thinking. You will bemoan her lack of bed skirt. You will make her promise that if she finds that she does need a bed skirt that she won’t panic, that she should REMAIN CALM because you will Amazon Prime that crap directly to her new mailbox overnight. You will realize she will have her own new mailbox, and you will cry about that when you think she’s not looking.

The day of: You will load her belongings in the car while silently weeping and snotting everywhere. Your own parents will call and stop by and the concern on their faces will make you crumble and you will wonder if you were nice enough to them when you left home a billion years ago before cell phones were even a thing. Your husband will pat you on the back and kiss you on the forehead and silently hand you tissues. This, as you might guess by this point, will also make you cry. Sad songs on the drive will have the expected effect. No surprises there. “Of all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you…” Thanks for that Andrew McMahon, you sadistic asshole.

You’ll surprisingly make it through the unloading/lunch/walking around campus part in good spirits. You can enjoy this part. It’s exciting and fun, plus you need this time to drink lots of water because between the heat and the work and the walking and the crying, you probably should hydrate. You will enjoy how excited she is and note how adorable she is when she’s pretending not to be nervous. You will be so proud of her that you will think you are going to burst.

When you leave her: When you give her a hug and kiss the top of her head  you will literally feel like the perky RA just kicked you in the gut. You will try not to be a mess as you leave her because now you’re worried that she will be sad and homesick. You’ll put on your sunglasses even though you haven’t made it out of the dorm hallway yet and you’ll get into your car and your eyes will leak off and on for the entire ride home.

Then, your youngest might do something precious like put her fingertips through the space between your seat and headrest and wiggle them against your shoulder, handing you a sticky note with a little sketch of her with her arms spread open for a hug.


And as you put the sticky note on the dash directly in front of you and stare at it, it will occur to you that you’ll have to do this again in three short years.