Surviving College Drop-Off Day And Beyond

College drop-off day is around the corner – Again!

Two years ago I hugged my oldest of 3 daughters goodbye at college and watched her walk into the next chapter of her life.

It was hard.

Really hard.

It was one of the hardest, most dreaded days of parenthood I’d ever experienced.

Sounds dramatic. I know I was sending her off to college, not war.

And still, the memory of that day is seared into my brain, along with some unexpected painful moments that snuck up on me in the weeks and months that followed.

And now only two years later I have another child packing up her room to head to college.

Recently, I’ve been rehashing what I learned the first time around. What I know for sure is that looking back and feeling sad robs me of being present for the moment I’m in now.

This time I give myself permission to feel sad, to miss them and then to get on with finding my new normal.

From drop-off day to the months that followed, this is how finding my new normal went down the first time.

My 2 younger daughters and I returned home after dropping off my oldest daughter at college overcome with an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.

Not able to take on each other’s sadness, we scattered. My daughters went their separate ways to hang out with friends. I sent a 911 text to one of my besties.

I poured my heart out to her crying between bites of food and sips of drinks. She listened compassionately and kept telling me my daughter was going to be fine. Funny thing, I wasn’t so sure I was going to be fine.

As the evening went on, the weight of the day diminished. I surrendered to the upbeat music. The conversation became lighter. I gave myself permission to laugh. I found myself looking through the lens of gratitude for the incredible love and friendship before me.

Exhausted, I went to sleep that night, thinking, “I’ll be ok.”

Days and weeks passed.

Somehow, the energy of the family was different. A missing link. Nothing felt normal. I had no idea I was in the throws of finding my new normal.

Who would’ve thought, that clean spacious counter where my oldest daughter used to spread all her “stuff” would catch me off guard every morning, and the ugly cry would begin. I started leaving my “stuff” on the counter to fill the empty space warding off the morning blues. A new normal.

And how is it that grocery shopping and cooking dinner for 4 people was so much different than 5? The empty chair at the kitchen table mocked us. We now eat at a different table, in a different room. A new normal.

Our dogs walked around aimlessly. They looked at me with their sad eyes as if saying, “Hey, bring her home. We miss our walks.” I started walking the dogs. A new normal.

The dynamics shift when what was 3 becomes 2. It was heart-breaking watching my middle daughter miss her sister, her best friend. Honestly, my youngest seemed ok. I watched as my two youngest daughters forged a closer friendship. A new normal.

I learned to embrace the miles between that allowed my oldest and youngest (a.k.a oil and water) to embrace each others quirks. They are closer now than they were when they lived under the same roof. A new normal.

I longed for my oldest’s hugs, her jokes, laughter and silly conversations about nothing. Now there are phone calls, texts with “I love You” emoji’s, and family face-time chats. A new normal.

A twinge of guilt hit me as I became aware of how much time I had spent with my oldest and not as much with my younger daughters. We focus on the oldest mostly because we are growing up as parents with them first. I now had the time and energy to have fun and connect with my younger daughters. A new normal.

And for now our oldest leaves the nest and comes home again in a steady rhythm. It’s become a comfortable new season of parenting routine. A new normal.

And now my 3 will become 1. My youngest and I will find our new normal together.

I will let my middle daughter go knowing that last embrace–that last moment she is in my arms before I release her to the future–is one of the most heart-wrenching moments of parenthood.

I will breathe and gently bend into each day, inviting the newness. I will find a new normal again.

And I will remember it isn’t over–it’s just different.

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