When My Daughter Leaves For College Soon, She Isn't The Only One I'll Miss

by Wendy Siegel
Originally Published: 

The rainbow lettered sign spelling “Just We Too” made my heart skip a beat as I parked my Cheerio-filled SUV. I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror to make sure I looked the same as I did when I left my house ten minutes before. There was no noise coming from the back seat, so I assumed my five-month-old beauty was also checking herself out in her fingerprint-covered mirror.

I unclipped her seatbelt and admired my baby Dylan, dressed in head-to-toe tie-dye wearing a bow that I desperately wanted to stay put on the top of her head. I whispered to her, reminding her of our earlier discussion: “Do not fart for the next 45 minutes. Do not cry and scream. Do not grab my hair so that I have to awkwardly untangle your fingers. And god forbid, if you poop, don’t let it seep out of your diaper and up your back!”

With Dylan on my hip, I opened the door to the class described online as the “first step in socializing your child…preparing him or her for school, social settings and college.”

The women inside were mingling and I instantly started to sweat. I finally knew what it felt like to be an acne-covered high school freshman on the first day at a new school. Laughter emerged from a gaggle of moms, all holding their babies effortlessly and making me wonder what I looked like holding Dylan. Another group seemed deep in conversation while comparing their little ones’ fingernails.

Having moved to our town just before baby Dylan was born, I knew no one other than the Weight Watchers weigh-in lady and my empty-nest neighbors who had delivered a lovely chocolate-less fruit basket just as the moving trucks pulled away.

This was my chance to make a friend…and Dylan’s chance to make a friend. All I wanted to get out of “Just We Too” was a playdate and adult conversation. I dreamed of inviting moms to my house so our kids could crawl around on personalized blankets while we drank coffee and talked. Dylan and I had a lot riding on this 45-minute class.

Suddenly someone gently touched my arm and complimented my “such a cool diaper bag!” I silently thanked my mother-in-law for telling me I had to buy it, and then introduced myself and Dylan to this arm-touching stranger. She asked how old Dylan was, and we immediately bonded over our daughters’ same birthdate. My nerves began to ease as we continued to compare baby details. She said she thought she recognized me from yoga class (yay that I love a good downward dog). Bonding even more. I was making a friend. Another mom approached carrying on her shoulder my very same diaper bag, and our chit-chat flowed until Miss Shari clapped her hands for circle time.

Unbeknownst to me, this was the first official gathering of my people.

It just so happened that the moms around the circle were right up my alley and they invited me to join them for a post-class lunch (YAY!). We shoveled in our dressing-on-the-side-chopped-salads, compared 3 a.m. feeding nightmares and spooned mashed veggies (why were theirs homemade?) into our crying babies’ mouths.

I felt like I struck gold when we all exchanged numbers and Dylan and I were invited to our first playdate. A PLAYDATE!!!!!

That first playdate turned into a standing weekly lunch which turned into “Girls Night Out” dinners. Our babies began to walk and talk and swim and dance and play soccer. They grew out of 12-month and 3-T and 6-X clothing sizes. Diaper bags turned into backpacks, and our kids learned to read and write and make dioramas and play recorders. And our playdates continued.

We gathered for birthdays and holidays and Sunday barbecues, and soon we adults sat in one room while our kids played in the other.

We had something special – special for us as moms and special for our kids. With each passing year, it felt like we had become a family.

We knew every detail about each other’s lives, from marriage spats to health crises to mother-in-law drama. We lost weight together and gained it back together. We lived through each other’s kitchen renovations and flooded basement debacles. We borrowed each other’s black-tie dresses and spent hours curled up on each other’s couches. Our “Moms Like Sisters” group chat was constantly aglow with texts about “unacceptable” traffic and lines at Target and teachers who just didn’t “get” our kids.

The years continued to fly. Drivers’ Ed and SAT exams and “firsts” of all kinds burst onto the scene. We continued to be there for one another, through the highs and the many lows. And suddenly, or seemingly so, our kids entered 12th grade. And they applied to college. And they got accepted.

And now…it’s May. Of their senior year. And everything in the rearview mirror seems like a blur. Nostalgia is taking over.

No longer will we moms sit together in the kitchen sipping wine while our kids are making Tik Toks or jointly surfing Instagram while sprawled on the couch. Our kids’ laughter and friendship has been “background noise” for years, but at least it’s always been there. It’s like the music coming from the loudspeaker that you don’t realize is even on…until it stops. And then the silence is louder than the music ever was. We just took it all for granted.

Without being overdramatic, that silence is upon us.

It was my daughter’s “college commitment party” and a day like any other with my group, who had all gathered to celebrate. My daughter and her friends were in the kitchen eating blue and orange gummy bears and M&M’s, chomping on blue cookies and drinking Orange Crush, celebrating her decision to become a Gator. Their familiar chatter was infused with fits of laughter and 17-year-old shrieks.

I glanced around at my friends. And my heart actually hurt for a moment. Sending my daughter off to college many states away will be painful. But saying good-bye to all that we moms have shared will also feel like a loss. We will still gather and laugh and be there for one another. But it will not be the same without our tribal music “playing” in the background.

“Just We Too” was right. It prepared our kids for college. And gave us moms the friendships to get through 17 years of raising them. They should add that in their tagline.

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