The first twenty minutes are the worst.
A deep melancholy silence fills the car. You feel like you should say something to your wife to crack the tension, but you’re just not sure what to say. And even if somehow the hum of the tires on the highway mercifully gives you the words that you seek, you worry that you’re just as likely to break down into a crumbling mess.
You’ve driven more than five hours to drop your oldest child off to her dorm room to start her sophomore year of college. You help her get her room unpacked and straightened up, take her out for lunch, and then get right back into the car for the long ride home. Of course, your car ride home is minus one important person.
Your mind races thinking about the past three months and how you got used to being a family of five again. When you came home from work, she was there to greet you with stories about her internship and introduction to the working world. You got used to her being a part of everyday family life again and then, whack, you feel like you’ve been hit across the face with a two-by-four. Your daughter is gone again.
You thought that you got used to these departures. You thought you got used to the goodbyes. The aching pit in your stomach tells you differently.
When you feel like you’ve reached your lowest point, you remember that you already have a date next Sunday to talk over Facetime. You came to love these conversations last year. They became a highlight of your week, watching your daughter get giddy with excitement about some new success or a new activity that she added to her schedule. You remember too how excited you are about attending Parents Weekend later in the Fall and how proud your daughter has made you.
A turn of emotions
From the depths of sadness comes a deep, contented happiness. If the first twenty minutes were the worst, the next twenty are the most uplifting. As mile upon mile flies by, you start talking, at first tentatively and then more freely, about how you can’t wait to see her make her dreams come true. You think about how she’s fighting back against the naysayers and those who would pooh-pooh her educational choices. You think back on how she’s changed from a tentative young girl to a reflective, positive — and dare I say it — inspiring, young woman.
The rest of the ride home passes by quicker than you ever would have expected. When you go to text your daughter late in the evening to let her know that you made it home safely, you reflect how the loss is still there, you still miss her, but you also know that she’s exactly where she needs to be.
She’s ready to take flight on her own.