And Then There Were Five

Taking your kid to college sucks. That's the big secret no one tells, because you wouldn't believe them. But I sure wish I was warned. 

Friends with children who already flew the coop did not aptly prepare me for the extreme pain and heartache that accompanied taking kid #1 to college. There’s a pact of secrecy amongst those that have already unloaded boxes into dorms to not tell us newbies how hard it is. 

Sure, seasoned parents called and hugged and commiserated once we returned from the drop off. But only afterwards, because if they warn us beforehand, dorms would surely be empty. It’s a loss only a parent can feel, and differs greatly family to family, but for this family, for these parents, it’s been heartbreaking.

Fair warning: this is hard.

This is how it’s supposed to be: they grow up, go to college, start their own stories.  I keep repeating a mantra, ‘she’s not dead,’ to make it easier.  Sick, yes, I know.

We know how lucky we are: #1’s life is exactly as any family would hope, but even so, pain is apparently part of the parent-package but that tidbit didn’t come with my childrearing instructions. Unbearably emotional, the onslaught of loss occurs with little or no warning. There were moments this past year when we couldn’t believe she was leaving, but many, many more when we were counting the days to get her out of the house.

Teenage Girls are Horrid, Make No Mistake About It

I’m not trying to reinvent history and sugar coat raising ‘tween and teenage girls – they’re miserable, vicious, horrid humans and anyone who has one knows it.  Living with a teenage, hormonal know-it-all daughter is no picnic. (And we have three!) But still, their absence is deafening, and the void is so very deep throughout the family. You’ll miss her – you will. I do.

Her room sits empty and the sibs gravitate towards it to read, sleep, text and hang out, while her dad and I avoid it at all costs. The dog carries around her shoes. Her dad and I have yet to talk about it, and cling to the other kids with suffocating, impossible hugs, long good night talks, and mandatory family time.

From here on out, it’s always going to be just one long good-bye, not just to the beautiful woman we dropped off at the dorm, but also to the little girl who wanted so badly to someday become a tight-rope walker.

It’s supposed to get easier, and I presume it will. And we really are so very happy for her.

But the empty thumbtack holes on her walls pierce my heart. And the sob in her brother’s voice when he discovered he only needed 5 glasses for dinner is a permanent reminder that eventually, if all goes well, we’ll always need one less.


  1. Kate:
    I loved this post. Hit home and brought back way too many memories. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Christ, Kathy. Now I'm plotting how to get my kids to fail out of high school, require full time at home nursing, or "lose" their car keys so they cannot leave. That really puts a dent in my future fantasy of a clean house, flexible hours, and a full night's sleep. Thanks a lot. Seriously, though, #1 is going to do well in life BECAUSE you are a parent who loves her this much. She's one lucky one. Enjoy the others while you've got 'em, and I'll do the same. Heartache always gets you, though, one way or another. Good to have friends like you out there, telling it like it is, trying to prepare us all for it. xoxoxo Sara S.

  3. I am 8 years (God willing) away from this same heartache. Thank you for sharing and Good luck to you all! Bittersweet!!!!

  4. No doubt that the 5 of you will miss Brady terribly (although, Zoe may be comforted by her move into Brady's old room). I hope you and Brad give yourselves a big pat on the back for a job well done! Brady is an amazing person. With your awesome parenting she has grown to become exactly the person she was meant to be. Don't worry, she'll call or visit whenever she needs money or a home cooked meal.

  5. Kate, I am feeling something already. Perhaps different with boys than girls. For a year now I can recognize Alex by the back of his head more than his facial features, he is always walking out the door and a w a y.... I savor the moments, like this summer at the cape when we were waiting outside a store for my friend & her kids and he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, cause he's that tall & I'm that short, and just stood there for 15 minutes allowing himself to hug me. I wrap that one up and put it in my heart to comfort me as he goes and does what he is supposed to do.

  6. What a nicely written and heartfelt post! I just dropped off my eldest child, too. Foolishly, I thought that it would be get better after the first day, but I now think I was a) exhausted from the preparations, b) vicariously excited about the new locale, and c) not quite realizing that home would never fully be home for her again. Now it is hitting me. Thanks for putting our feelings into words.

  7. Thanks for the kind words -- posted here and emailed/phoned in as well. I'm here to tell you it's all good. Weird, different, but good. Don't have that carsick feeling all the time anymore, and the infrequent texts from #1 let me know she's loving life. What more can any mom want?

  8. I love you too mom! :*

    Thats a kiss smilie face by the way. turn it sideways

  9. If that's not credibility, then there are no words!


  10. Well now I know why every time I mention to my girlfriend @ work that pretty soon she'll have the last of her 4 out the door she breaks down sobbing. I don't even have kids and you made me tear up, thanks Kate. Hopefully she'll be one of those kids that comes home so often in the first couple of years for Thanksgiving, Chreistmas etc... that it will be like she never left. I already miss her too. I'll be like Bernie carrying around one of her shoes.

  11. Thanks for all the great feedback, and FYI, it's all good.
    I've heard from a tons of friends -- new and old -- in person, on the phone, bringing gifts and hugs and wine, and tons of emails. Do me a favor tho' -- repost, share, and write it down here! Do so anonymously if you want, but the comments here give me much needed street-cred. And about this college thing, all you young parents: don't say I didn't warn you!

  12. Awwww . . . this is such a heartfelt and heart-wrenching post.


    My daughters are 9 and 11, but the time between their babyhood and now? Seems to have passed in a matters of moments. I know I will be where you are in another few short moments.