I’ve had lots of superlative days in my 46 years. The happiest: my wedding day. The saddest: saying goodbye to Joe’s mom at her bedside. The longest: a 24-hour bus ride to Washington DC. The best: the day I became a mom.

And then there was yesterday. The day we drove to Houston as a family of four, dropped off our first born at college, and drove home a family of three. And a new superlative is added to the list: The hardest.  

When you become a parent, people like to give you a lot of advice. How to get your baby to sleep through the night. How to potty train your toddler.  How to deal with an emotional pre-teen. But I’m starting to see why there isn’t much advice on how to send your kid off to college. How to let go. How to hold it together and how to move forward and act like it’s okay. Because it’s hard. Much harder than potty training or sleeping or even the door-slamming, eye-rolling, pre-team drama.

Frankly, I think it stinks. The sweet boy I cuddled, read books to before tucking into bed, the boy who made us laugh, taught us to think and challenged us with his big ideas just strolled out of our world and into a new one. One that I won’t be privy to every day. One that doesn’t necessarily include me.  And after all these years of togetherness, it’s just hard.

And like so many other times, as a mom, I feel guilt. Guilty for the tears. Guilty for being sad. While many parents are dealing with terrible struggles or illness or loss, we are not. Our child is fine. He is attending one of the finest universities in the country. He’s happy. He’s healthy. He has promise. So why does my heart feel ripped out of my chest?

Yesterday, I held it together all day. I put on a brave front when hugging Jack goodbye. Then we got close to home. First, we passed the elementary school. Joe and I both stared at the darkened cafeteria. “Remember walking up to those windows to see who Jack’s kindergarten teacher would be?” he asked.

“Like it was yesterday,” I replied.

Then, at home, I walked by Jack’s room and pictured his size 12 feet hanging off the bed. And I fell apart. Completely. Fell. Apart.

Tonight is our big high school pep rally, called Meet the Cats. It’s the annual event before the new school year where we meet the new athletic teams, watch the new cheerleaders and drill team members perform, and hear the band play. It’s always been one of my favorite nights, and now I am completely dreading it. Jack played and performed with that band for four years – and I can’t imagine hearing the school fight song without hearing Jack’s French horn. I can’t imagine being in that gym and not looking for his face in the crowd. In fact, I can’t even imagine being in that gym again. The one where just a few months ago, he was there, on stage, delivering the Valedictorian address to the class of 2014.

I always tell my kids that the one thing you can count on in life is change. And sometimes change is hard.

For the first time ever, I am seeing the ridiculousness in that statement. Change is more than hard. It can be heartbreaking. And when your baby packs up all his stuff and starts referring to coming home as  “visiting”, well that can feel just plain wrong. But it’s change. And like it or not, that is what they are supposed to want to do. That’s what I did. That’s what Joe did. And I know our daughter will do the same in three years.  

For now, I will be optimistic and look for the good in this change – more date nights with Joe, a new college team to cheer for, more time with Gillian. And I’ll also go on record to say that the superlative “hardest day” is in the books. Written in ink, or at least virtual ink.

Whew! So let’s move on already. It’s got to be uphill from here.

College Day!