Parents, Are You Ready To Leave The College Years?

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The picture is branded into my memory. It is the first day of first grade and my twin girls have the tiniest backpacks and lunch boxes too big for their little fingers. It is one of those early September days where the sun is low enough to be in their eyes, but warm enough for them to wear shorts to a school whose air conditioning was spotty at best. One daughter has her arm wrapped around her sister (a bit too tightly) squeezing with a mighty love. Both girls are squinting as they smile and say “cheese” into a camera that didn’t have the technology to capture their voices.

I don’t know why, but we took that same driveway picture every year on the first day of school. We have a front lawn and backyard, but somehow we ended up on the driveway with a slope that gave one of the girls a height edge. I still remember when they got their drivers’ license, in too much of a hurry for the famous concrete jungle picture, so I had to snap one as the car was rolling down our hill and out into the world.

It’s odd that this is my prominent memory the month that each of my girls are graduating from their respective colleges. Soon they will be living in different cities than mine, different from one other, working full-time and launching into a life filled with adventure and excitement. I’m trying not to look at old pictures, trying not to cry too much and taking a stab at total happiness– the appropriate emotion for our children to see when they accomplish such a life feat.

These are my thoughts when I am busy living my second act. Stacy and I are getting the magazine off the ground. Wonderful friends, an amazing husband and family surround me. My calendar is booked from now until the fall. Life is good in the empty nest. So why can’t I shake this unbelievable sadness about how quickly their lives, under my roof, went soaring by?

When the girls left for college, it felt temporary. I knew they would come home on a regular basis. When they were home, the house was filled with the raucous laughter of their high school friends as if nothing had changed. Even though they worked in the summer, there was always a shoulder season amount of time before and after. They would come to the beach and bring friends. There was so much life in those days that I had, as my kids like to say, a full heart. It was as if time stood still and we were carrying on the same way we did for 18 years prior to their college departure.

I wasn’t really prepared for the feelings that have seemed to overwhelm me over the last few weeks. It wasn’t subtle like the wake from the back of a boat; it was more of a tsunami. When I can’t sleep at night (which is often these days), I walk into their rooms and open their closets – still full of clothing; or sit at their desks – still covered with memorabilia from school and their beloved camp years. Photos of their friends are plastered everywhere. Bat Mitzvah sign-in boards and awards cover the walls. I have made the executive decision not to touch a thing. Let the clothing stay, desk drawers overflow with papers and bags sit on the floor chock full of their stuffed animals. This little disorderly defiance seems to be helping me hang on. For now.

I have a plan. I don’t need to go on Safari in Africa or to a beach in Bali. I want to spend my travel time and money driving to New York and flying to Washington, DC on a regular basis. And we (hubby and me) will pay for the girls to come home for holidays and whenever they need a break from the real life grind. A weekend at Chez Golub in their own beds, surrounded by all the things I refuse to discard, will do them good.

There is also the dream of having grandchildren one day (not soon but not so far away, god willing.) When and if they come, I will rise early and travel to my daughters’ homes for every first day of school picture, watching the new generation squint into the iPhone camera and say “cheese” (which will probably be recorded as well.) I will hold onto this fantasy for now and let it help ease me into this next act of my life. In the end, they are doing what they should be doing and doing it well. And I couldn’t be more proud of each of them and their outstanding accomplishments.


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