By Guest Blogger Kelly Hines

Four days before my oldest child went to college, I bought 14 boxes of tampons and then sat and cried in the grocery store parking lot.

Did I cry because I’d just spent a small fortune on feminine hygiene products? Did I cry because I was worried about an impending menstrual emergency? No. I cried because my baby was leaving and overbuying tampons was exactly the type of thing I’d been doing for months. I’d been slowly losing my mind – and control – for a long time.

Three days before she went to college, I WAS FINE. NO, I’M FINE. IT’S ALL GREAT. I’M EXCITED FOR HER. My husband suggested that maybe I was making this all about ME. I was so fine, I didn’t even kill him.

Two days before she left for college, we wrapped all the boxes in plastic wrap and labeled them with bright yellow duct tape. She did a final load of laundry (okay, I did it for her) and packed everything she thought she’d need for the next few months. The pile of boxes and bins outside her room had been steadily growing for months, and sealing everything up made it all feel very imminent. That night, we went to dinner as a family at our favorite Mexican restaurant and she fought with her siblings and was kind of jerky and I tried hard to remember that I might miss that part of her, too. Her boyfriend came over and stayed too late and we didn’t say anything. When he left, her face was tear stained.

The day before she left, we loaded everything in our cars save her toiletries and the giant Ariana Grande poster that she insisted had to be kept flat so it wouldn’t wrinkle. We are a family of anxious people, so we all walked around with nervous smiles and feigned excitement. She looked at me at one point and said, “It’s time. I’m just ready to go.” And though that statement made me want to wail and throw myself on the ground, I just said, “You’re right.”

The morning she left for college, I woke up ridiculously early and drank 400 cups of coffee. We headed up the mountain (did I mention that she’s going to school 1 ½ hours away and not across the country? Same difference.), her dad driving with her and the little kids with me. I’m the number one nag in the house, and I thought he should have some quality lecture time to reinforce my message: Study hard, make friends, don’t fall behind, join clubs, be kind, wear your retainers. Later, he said he’d given her tips on how to get out of a frat party if the cops show up. Not exactly ‘on message’, but helpful nonetheless.

She moved into her dorm a few days early, so we were able to park right there, unload and unpack without the traffic and busyness of regular move in day. We pushed a dolly piled high with boxes and each of us carried a precious item. My daughter personally escorted the giant Ariana Grande poster. A young man and his parents were moving in at the same time. He carried a guitar and a backpack, and that was all. His mom looked as shattered as I felt.

We took her car to the very remote freshman parking lot and drove back to drop her off at her dorm. We stood in the parking lot, hugging and telling her how great of an experience this was going to be. I heard my voice, all full of manufactured enthusiasm, and struggled to hold back tears for a few minutes more. That’s when my husband started crying. And that’s when my daughter started crying. I’m standing there wondering why I’m the one keeping it together.

We went to lunch at a friend’s house nearby, and I only texted my girl (who was two miles away) maybe twelve times in the course of the hour. Her roommate arrived and they were busy decorating their room and going to lunch, tears and family forgotten. I could pretend for awhile that she was just spending the night at a friend’s house, or at work, or at camp.

It wasn’t until the next night, when I turned out the front porch light and locked the door, that it hit me that she wasn’t coming home for awhile. That I wasn’t going to yell up the stairs and ask if she was hungry. I wasn’t going to have her run up to the store for me when I was in the middle of cooking dinner because I’d forgotten an onion. And I wasn’t going to hear her tell her sister to chew with her mouth closed or tell her brother to stop shoving so much food in his mouth because oh my gosh he’s going to throw up!

I sat down on the couch and cried great big, heaving, snotty, blubbery cries. I cried until I couldn’t breath with missing her. My younger two sat on either side of me and patted my back and the nine year old said, “It’s okay, mom. She’ll come home again.” I know it’s true, but it won’t ever be the same. I was so terribly sad, and didn’t know how this would ever feel normal.

Two days after she left for college, I went upstairs to her room. We’re moving all the rooms around, and I told her I’d pack up whatever she left and move it. I did not anticipate the dirty bathroom and the clothes still strewn about the room and the general disarray. For a while, as I scrubbed the tub and emptied trash and found my favorite cup under her bed, I missed her a little less.

We’re now a couple of weeks out. College classes have started and she’s made friends and been to a party. She’s adjusted to communal showers and walking uphill, both ways. At home, I’m down to doing location checks on her only five times a day. I’ve taken the stickers off her walls and stopped crying every night when I lock the front door. I’ve sent the first care package, with the boots and sweatshirt she forgot, some snacks, and a twenty dollar bill. I remain insanely grateful that she has this opportunity. I am becoming, slowly, genuinely excited for her.

I’ll still leave the porch light on, just in case.

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