Anticipating the Time Your Child Leaves Home. Trying Not to Cry.

While I was at the office and weeding the garden and worrying about whether or not I had the most updated train schedule in my purse, unbeknownst to me, my oldest child was getting ready to go to college. Without me really registering what was happening, he progressed through elementary, middle and high school, where he is now a senior. He is, as of this writing, almost finished applying to college, which is a mostly-horrible process that I would mostly not wish on my worst enemy. (If you don’t believe me, just go to and spend 10 minutes on the site, which is about how long it takes me to feel like my hair feels is on fire.)

I have, however, been aware enough of the progression of time to poll friends with older children about how much sadness is involved in a child leaving for college. One friend was mostly fine until the weekend of drop-off, when she began crying hysterically while listening to her daughter’s French professor. She later had to hide behind a tree so her daughter would not see that she was crying. Another friend cried constantly, all during her son’s senior year, at every “last” event: the last Halloween, the last hockey game, the last prom. After she dropped him off at school she sobbed, took a Valium, slept in the car for 6 hours straight and woke up feeling like herself again. A third friend seemed sanguine about her son leaving but, after he was off at school, told me that it felt like…well…her arm had been amputated. I think the arm is growing back.

I have chosen the denial route, but fear the All-Consuming Sadness is going to catch up with me eventually. To wit: last night I was reading The Bug Book to our five-year-old. The Bug Book is my favorite slightly-twisted children’s book, which, since it is by Edward Gorey, may not actually be a children’s book at all. But the fact that all three of my sons have loved it gives me great hope that they will grow up to be interesting adults. Anyway, my five-year-old is now at the stage when he writes his name in all capital letters in an adorable, uneven hand. Last night when I opened The Bug Book, I saw that my oldest—who was sitting in his room, slogging through college applications that were due at midnight—had written his name in the book many years ago, in the same big letters and the same uneven hand.

And then I really, really felt like I was going to cry. But I didn’t. Because once I start, I may never stop.