Band-aids, roller coasters, and other thoughts about sending my daughter off to college

Two weeks from today I’ll be giving my daughter that famous last hug before I leave her at college; the one everyone talks and writes about.

They say it’s supposed to be quick — like ripping off a band-aid.

I say “they” can suck it.

Besides, when my daughter was little, she’d pull a band-aid off a tiny bit at a time so the entire process took about half a day.

That sounds a lot better.

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me how I’m doing with “all this.”

If by ‘all this’ they mean denying the fact that the day is barreling at me like a freight train, than I’m doing excellent, thankyouverymuch.

I wish I could say I was lying, but I’m not.

The past month I’ve been busying myself to the point of craziness with lists and details:
Dorm room decor? Got it. 
Four seasons of appropriate footwear? Check.
Forms and paperwork? On it.
Thinking of every possible toiletry she’d ever possibly need in her entire lifetime? Happily.
Penciling in every potential date over the next four months when I can see her? Done (months ago).

The point is, I’ve been distracting myself with all these jobs so I can avoid thinking about the actual reason I’m doing them.

The other day I was telling her how in just a month from now she’ll have met some of the people who will be important in her life for years and years: bridesmaids at her wedding; Godparents to her children; girlfriends to meet for girls’ weekends with when they’re in their 40’s. I was also telling her about the fabulously mundane parts of college life: eating with friends at the cafeteria (which in today’s world are fabulous “marketplaces” that are better than any mall’s food court); hanging out with her dorm-mates watching crappy TV and eating junk food at 2 a.m.; walking across her beautiful campus when it’s ablaze with fall colors; lazy weekends with no one telling her to clean her room — it was easy to get excited for her.

Easy to forget what has to happen for all those exciting things to start.
Easy to forget what’s being traded for all those exciting things.

But then I do.

Hearing her voice laughing with her sister multiple times a day.
Hearing her singing in the shower every night.
Hearing her ask me for a hug at least once a day — every day.
Seeing her walk through the door and throwing all her crap on the floor.
Yelling at her to pick up all her crap on the floor.
Popping into her room to tell her good-night.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s all happening exactly as it was destined to happen; exactly as you hope it happens when you have them and you imagine that unimaginable day in the far-off future when they’ll leave home. To have a child who is bright, mature, confident and ambitious? It’s the sign that as parents you’ve done your job.

But the drop my stomach takes when I dare to imagine my bright, funny pal not living in the same house with us is physical. For 18 and a half years I’ve seen her just about every day. To switch gears so suddenly in the middle of this ride? It’s hard not to stall for a bit, and it’s easy to keep riding the clutch so you don’t.

What is making this even more difficult is that she’s feeling it, too. Is she excited about college? Absolutely. Is she excited about leaving home? As it’s gotten closer, not so much. Everything she’s leaving behind is hitting her full-force: her beloved cat, her little sister who’s her best friend, her comfy bed (that the little sister is threatening to take over), the laughter over the stupid conversations that are typical in our house, the security of the family she adores. (Damn it. I knew I should’ve been meaner to her and made her life more of a hell over the past 18 years.)

But she’s anxious — and a bit sad — and right now those things are overshadowing her excitement. It’s normal. It’s OK. (Although, it’d be a hell of a lot more OK if she’d actually start the packing process and start cleaning her room already.) And it’s actually a bit of a distraction from my own anxiousness because — just like always — my instinct is to make sure she’s OK with it before even trying to deal with myself.

Old habits die hard.

The other day I told her that I think what needs to happen now is that we just need to get to the other side of this. We’re close enough to something scary that it’s time to just hold our breath and take the plunge and get to the fun, exciting part.

You know how when the roller coaster car you’re in is click-clacking up to the top of the giant hill and your stomach is twisty and your palms are sweaty and you’re just praying you don’t throw up or pass out? But then when you get over that hump at the top and start flying down the hill, all the breath leaves you because it’s so exhilarating?


(I should point out that I liked roller coasters a lot more when I was younger.)

In two short weeks I’ll be giving that last hug and ripping off the band-aid.

Because like it or not, we all know that when it’s time to take the band-aid off, whatever is underneath it is ready for some fresh air.

For more posts on letting my daughter go (and by ‘posts’ I mean my therapy sessions), click HERE and HERE


  1. Bev Bell Draughon on August 14, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I understand exactly what you are feeling….I was a royal mess with my first child leaving and even more so with my last…..and since I only have 2 children…that tells you…right? As I read this I see so many blessings that have come your way… many children would give anything to have the love and laughter….not to mention a 2 parent family that your beautiful girls have….good for you Michelle for being such a wonderful…not to mention fun loving mother that you are… Yes, lots and lots of blessing are yours….. Bev

  2. Nikki on August 22, 2014 at 7:21 am

    I sound a lot like your daughter when I went to college ten (wow that is a long time ago) I was excited but also SO FREAKED out. My parents told me one thing that always seemed to help “you can always come home” just having this in the back of my mind, like a last default, extreme sort of plan helped me push through. I eventually got to the point where I refused to open a transfer letter (I sent it first semester when I was still in dread mode) to MY DREAM SCHOOL. My roomate had to open it 🙂

    I think the biggest things I would recommend is to just let the excitement flow, I did not in fact meet my future bridesmaids on the FIRST day (HELLO PRESSURE) but I did meet them as the months unfolded and I found where I was suppose to be! Which is awesome! But it did suck for awhile. Send AWESOME care packages (my mom sent me new outfits) and try to distract her from being sad about being away, and tell her “you can always come home” it is the truth, but after the first college break she will realize she is exactly where she is suppose to be.

    • Michelle on August 22, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Thank you — GREAT advice!! We’ve always told her that this isn’t a locked in decision. Easy to change your mind…your college…your major if you need to. Both my husband and I went through things like that when we were freshmen, too. It helps that she has a couple of good friends going to the same school (and one even in one of her classes!) and that she’s not too too far away (a loong car drive or a bus ride as opposed to a flight). And don’t worry, I’ve already got the first two care packages all planned — and we haven’t even gone yet! 😉 We’ll all survive and all will be good, it’s just that this part kind of sucks.

  3. Kim Tucker Gal on July 29, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Well I’m a year off, but I just found your blog and I think I may be living your life, a year later!!! (I’ll be 45 🙁 in 2 weeks)
    Love all that I have read so far. Will be reading much much more!!
    I’ll be sending my first born daughter (also a late Oct baby) off to college 4 hours away in a few short weeks; I love your thoughts and advice on this whole situation and even more I LOVE knowing you actually survived; with a little help from a few “friends”, you know Chardonnay and Cosmo!!!

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