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Nothing Can Prepare You For Dropping Your Firstborn Off at College

dropping kid off at college

I’m not gonna lie. Dropping my son off at college sucked. Experienced friends warned me that they cried all the way home and I empathized, but doubted that would happen to me. I expected to tear up a little hugging him goodbye and definitely cry while walking to the car, but then my husband and I would smile at each other, hold hands, and congratulate ourselves on a job well done as we drove home…

Yeah, right.

I’ve been preparing myself for this moment since he was 2 years old and starting preschool at the JCC. He refused to enter the classroom and had to be physically removed from me as we both cried. He repeated this performance every year through kindergarten, when he refused to get on the school bus and I had to chase him up and down the muddy front yard in my heels, suit, and briefcase. He then ran inside and locked me out of the house.

READ: When Will This Dreaded Separation Anxiety Phase End?

Doom descended on me spring semester of his senior year. I cried through prom pictures, senior dinner dance, award ceremonies, and graduation. But I finally made peace with his impending departure, and even wrote a blog on how well I was doing. I just hadn’t fully processed the goodbye: the walking out of the dorm and driving home without him part.

On move-in day, I walked into my garage at 6:45 a.m. and found one of my son’s closest friends saying one last goodbye. The rest of their friends had already left for school and these two young men will be going their separate ways today… I immediately lost it and went back into the house for an extra box of tissues. So much for not crying–I promised myself that the day was young and I had a three-hour car ride to get it together.

But I lost it again 15 minutes later as we backed out of the driveway. I promised myself that this is it: I was ready to rise to the occasion and accept reality. My son’s happiness was contagious and I would surely catch the bug on the ride up. Bring it College! Take my boy…

READ: My Kid Will Never Go to College

It strikes me as odd that as parents, we dread the very milestone that we obsessively prepare for: guiding, teaching life lessons, time management skills, prioritizing, researching colleges, and positioning to make sure this moment would happen. And then we spend so much energy dreading its arrival.

Move-in day was packed with unloading, rearranging, and shopping. It wasn’t until we were mostly done that I noticed the growing ache in the back of my throat. I let myself cry in the restaurant bathroom during dinner, fooling myself into believing that that would prevent a scene upon departure. I didn’t prolong our goodbye. We hugged like crazy, and then I bolted to the car like a mad woman yelling to my husband to unlock the doors. “Drive fast!” I sobbed. “We’re still on campus and I’d rather not hit someone,” my husband pointed out the obvious.

By the time we hit the road, the lump in my throat was so large I feared I may need an EpiPen. Maybe I’m allergic to leaving my son behind. I was so severely nauseous, I warned my husband that we may need to pull over at a moment’s notice. “Just breathe. It’s all normal,” he told me. Easier said than done.

READ: The Trip to Costco That Made Me Cry

My heart pounded so loudly I could barely hear him. My eyes played the role of the newly renovated Trevi Fountain, shedding many buckets of water per second. The image made me miss our family vacation to Italy, and I cried harder. Thank goodness I remembered the extra tissues.

While this is fresh on my mind and raw in my soul, I thought I’d offer a few tips for moms on drop-off day:

1. Wear waterproof mascara or no makeup at all. I know you want to make a good impression on the other moms, but wait until you see their eyes. Red is the new black.

2. Bring a BOX of tissues (not those wimpy little packets). And a garbage bag wouldn’t hurt. You’ll feel badly enough–you don’t need to rest your swollen feet on a carpet of snot.

3. Take a decongestant (and migraine meds if necessary) once you depart. The crying will cause uncomfortable swelling in your sinuses (made worse by the start of allergy season), and this will exacerbate the nausea. So maybe bring antiemetic meds as well. An ice pack for the pounding in your head wouldn’t hurt…

4. Try not to cry in front of your kid. It’s hard on him, too. He/she doesn’t need your drama and neither do the siblings. But since we can’t always control ourselves, bring large dark sunglasses. And turn the radio to full volume in the car. Sobbing distracts everyone.

5. Don’t share out loud that you can’t get that annoying “Fiddler On the Roof” song out of your head. Even if you drive off at sunset and it seems poetic. Sunrise, Sunset…

I’ve read many articles that give tips for dealing with this milestone. None of them helped me. It’s a rite of passage and an individual journey. Just because it’s normal to ride the bittersweet rollercoaster of emotions doesn’t mean it’s easy. Giving birth was easier than dropping my son off at college (and his birth was long and complicated, but at least he came home with me). And that pain was temporary. I’m hoping this one is, too.

I know that time heals, and that my son’s happiness and excitement bug will eventually spread to my psyche and infect me with immense pride and a selfless joy for all that he is about to experience. He worked hard, he is ready, and he deserves it. Rationally I know that I have no right to be this pathetic–hopefully my heart will catch up to my brain sooner rather than later.

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