Today it happened. I dropped my oldest daughter off at college.
It didn’t quite go the way I wanted. I didn’t get to have much time with her, as we flew in late last night and I had to fly back out today. But I was at least glad that I could be there to see her off.
We got a room last night at a hotel near our old home in Centennial. We woke this morning and picked up a few last minute items – laundry detergent, coffee creamer, a refillable water bottle. Extra toiletries in case she runs out. Some small plants to cheer up her room.
Then a quick stop at her high school to get copies of transcripts. We swung by a friend’s house to pick up the few things we left in Colorado when we moved in May.
Then we were off.
And then I got a text that my return flight was cancelled due to weather.
As I began the hour drive to Boulder, I called to try to reschedule my flight. There were only 2 options: a later flight that put me getting home around 2:00 AM, or a flight that meant leaving 2 hours earlier than planned and getting home at 7:15 PM.
After a brief hesitation, I went with the early flight.
This meant that I would have less time with Hunter. I could get her moved in, but I couldn’t stay for long. So that’s what we did.
The move-in process was smooth. University staff and volunteers were there to help us unload, roll belongings to the room, guide me to parking and I even got a golf cart ride back to the dorm.
We unpacked suitcases quickly, as we had brought 4 bags full of clothes and belongings but I was only leaving one suitcase for her to keep. (I was able to put the empty roller duffel bag and a small suitcase into one larger suitcase to return home – travel hack!!)
After unpacking, I didn’t want to leave right away, so I hung a few clothes in the closet. Put some socks and underwear into a drawer. Mindlessly moved things around on a shelf like it was helpful.
I was thankful her roommate hadn’t arrived yet. I wanted this time alone with her without anyone around.
But it was time to go, so we hugged. And I cried. Then took a selfie – which really should’ve happened before the tearful hugs, but whatever.
And then I left.
I was fine for a while as I drove to the airport. Until I wasn’t. I thought of her. Wondered if she was sad. If she had wanted me to stay longer. I wondered if she would get lonely or homesick and if she would reach out when that happened.
And I wondered if I had spent enough time with her. I didn’t want to hover, but I didn’t want to leave too early either. Was it enough for her? Did she think I didn’t want to stay?
So I cried as I drove. A little at first, and then the big cry hit. Mascara everywhere.
I felt selfish because I knew I am supposed to be happy for her. Excited for this new part of her life that she gets to experience. But all I feel is this heartache and emptiness from such a huge piece of my life that is now missing.
She was the reason I became a mom. She taught me so much about parenting. All the ups and downs, learning everything from scratch over the past 18 years. I failed quite a bit, but through those failures I learned how to be a better mom too.
Hunter has always been with me. She was the only constant in my life that has been full of change.
Through two divorces, multiple moves from state to state, home to home, through job changes and births and deaths — we have gone through it together.
And now she’s on her own. And I’m without her. She has helped me to grow as much as I’ve helped her.
Have I even taught her enough? Did I give her all the lessons I wanted to give through all these years?
Does she know how to budget? Will she remember to put a stamp on the envelope before dropping it in the mail? Will she ever floss again without me telling her to?
And the bigger lessons… the ones that were implied and not so much spoken aloud…
When we walked away from her dad, as he tried to kick me down the stairs while I carried her to the car, did I teach her to be strong and walk away from unhealthy relationships?
When I graduated with my bachelors degree, walking across the stage with her in my belly, and then went on to get two more masters degrees, did I teach her how important it is to never stop learning?
Or when I changed careers late in life, did I teach her to do what makes her happy? To ignore what others may think as long as she is working and paying her bills?
And when I walked away from a second failed marriage, did I teach her that it’s ok to be independent? That sometimes you work hard at something but it doesn’t work out, and it isn’t your fault?
When I moved our little family to a new state with no family around for help, did I teach her that it’s ok to do scary things? To follow her heart? That it’s ok to find a new place to start over and be in charge of her own life?
Every time I nagged her to put a vegetable on her plate, did I succeed in teaching her to eat balanced meals? That sometimes indulgences are fine, but the body needs to be taken care of?
When I asked her to put away her phone for the 10th time in a day, did she realize I just wanted to spend more time with her? To see her eyes and her smile and have her laugh at some corny joke?
Will she know that every decision I have made in my life has been made with her well-being in mind?
I know in my heart that she will be ok. I expect to get texts often (the first one came in only 30 minutes after I left), and I know I’ll see her again soon.
But it will be different not seeing her every day. Not having her around to make me laugh or make me swear under my breath. Not being able to rely on her for 729 things every day that make my life easier.
And her brothers and sister will be adjusting as well. We will notice the empty chair at dinner.
It’s time for me to shift my focus. I have 3 other babies who still need me.
Hunter’s going to be ok. It’s time for her to be her own person. I’ve done what I could to help her grow, and now I will watch her shine.