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Image of a hand selecting a red book from a bookshelf

Amid the avalanche of articles and blogs and well-meaning advice I’ve consumed about surviving my oldest child leaving for college, the most helpful was something Amanda Docter offered at a PPN meeting last spring. She said she’s come to think of her kids’ departures as the end of a really good book. A book she’s enjoyed immensely, one she had a hard time putting down while she was reading it, but one she can no longer deny she’s finished. By turning the last page and placing it in an honored spot on her very favorite bookshelf, she gets to choose a new, exciting book to read next.

I’ve officially entered The Week I’ve been dreading for months. Within a few days I’ll deposit both daughters and a significant part of my heart on two beautifully groomed campuses all the way across the country. I’m out-of-my-mind excited to see what comes next for each of them, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m also bruised by the raw sadness of them leaving.

Chad and my responses to the upcoming transition have been polar opposites. He, who had so little doubt about having kids that he joked about things we’d tell our grandchildren on our second date, is having a more traditional, soiled-nest type of reaction. He’s been gritting his teeth all summer, alternating between enjoying the swarm of chaos around our two about-to-go girls and raging against the slovenly state of their bedrooms and their endless needs for rides, takeout food, and goodbye parties. He claims he’s completely ready for them to move on to the bright beautiful world that awaits them. But I’m not fooled that his sudden, intense escape fantasies (Santa Fe! Upstate New York!) are unrelated to their impending departure.

I, on the other hand, entered adulthood convinced I was going to be one of those very cool childless aunts who could be counted on for vaguely inappropriate, impractical gifts and graduation trips to Paris. I was befuddled when my 30s brought three babies of my own to oversee. For years I was low-key panicked by how much they needed and how little I slept and how they didn’t seem to ever go away. But now they’re going away. And I’m heartbroken.

As one of the many how-to-survive-drop-off posts emphasized, it’s not a death; it’s not even a tragedy. But it’s not nothing. It’s the end of a million days filled with a million questions – what’s for dinner? where’s my chromebook? how late can I stay out? – and the beginning of a new, time-constrained relationship via FaceTime and school breaks.

The reason I love Amanda’s analogy so much is that I’ve always had a bit of a problem with book transitions. When the end of a book I’ve loved approaches, I’ve been known to slow down and resist for weeks, saving the final ten pages for a special night when I can give it proper attention. Picking a new book, too, is always hard for me. I’m overwhelmed with how many great choices there are out there and paralyzed by the opportunity cost of all I’ll miss by choosing one.

So be gentle with us. Don’t bother with the stories of how your parents sent you on a plane to college alone, and you were fine, or of how you didn’t even check in for a month and discovered your folks were having the time of their lives without you. We’re a different generation. We transformed ‘parent’ from a noun to a verb, and this is going to be a lot harder for us. Eventually I’ll find a fantastic new book to read. I always do. It’s just hard to imagine right now that it’ll be as magical as my last.