Anyone who has had a child knows “the bag” the one that sits, at the ready, for days or even weeks waiting for the “big event.” The one that contained symbols of the new roles that husband and wife would be taking on — the first outfit, the knitted hat, the snuggly blanket, as well as all the mom stuff that the new mother would need while she was being overwhelmed by those first hours of motherhood.

Here’s that bag for me.

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It’s a great bag that my sister bought for me for the baby shower. It not only still exists but it has taken many journeys with our expanding family over the years. Somehow, it seemed appropriate that the bag that brought everything to the hospital when he was born should be the bag that went with us when we delivered TJ to the next big phase of his life. And so, “the bag” accompanied us to Burlington — a symbol of what had been and what was yet to be.

We were off, truck packed and the five of us enjoying a ride through the mountains to TJ’s new home for the school year. It didn’t take long for us to get him unpacked and for him to turn the contents of  those boxes, foot lockers and duffle bags into his new digs. By the time we returned with lunch in hand and perishables for his new fridge, he had transformed the stark space into a very comfy spot, very “TJ”.

Everyone says that saying goodbye and leaving your child at college is hard, but the goodbyes weren’t very different from goodbyes when we’ve dropped the boys off elsewhere. Hugs and small talk. Last minute thoughts, a heartfelt “I love you”. Despite the admonitions from everyone including the parking attendants “Mom, no crying!” when we first pulled in, there were no tears. I am very proud of TJ and all that he has accomplished. He deserved to enjoy that day without a blubbering mom in the background or the foreground and I delivered. What was difficult is the coming home to TJ not being here. When we pulled into the driveway, my thought was “oh TJ’s home” when I saw his truck sitting there…only to realize that “no, he wasn’t home, that’s just his truck”.  So, the long and short of it, is while TJ got the “no tear” send-off from his mom, the rest of the family hasn’t been so lucky since we’ve been home.

I’m mopey, I admit it. No one but another mom understands that it’s hard to share your life and for the better part of a year, share your very body with another person occupying the same space without feeling sad that things will never be the same. Will things be different? Yes. Will things be better? Maybe. Will you be proud of your child and their accomplishments? Absolutely.

But your family will never be the same configuration and chemistry and you will never be the same person as you were when you got in the car for that ride to college. We all know it’s coming. It might as well be printed on that bag that accompanies you to the hospital for the birth. It’s implicit in the very definition of parenting. The process of promoting and supporting the physical,emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. From the second we are “officially” parents at the birth, it is a process of independence, of teaching another human being to be self-sufficient and in so doing, tearing yourself away from that person that you have created.

Leaving TJ at the door to his dorm, there was not a cell in my body that wasn’t happy for him and confident that Tom and I had done the best job we could in the preceding 18+ years in preparing him for this next journey. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t swelling with pride at the young man he has become. At the same time however, there are just as many cells yearning to freeze time and protect the familiar part of my life.  In the days that follow “drop off” there will be adjustment…contrary to the “how to” books, it won’t be so much for the college student as for the college student’s mom.

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