The car was packed so tightly even a sardine would feel cramped. From floor to ceiling there were boxes. Labeled trash bags. Plastic crates and zip ties. One tennis racket, eight pair of shoes and a newly purchased umbrella for the rainy days to come.
And one little girl heading off to college.
Her brothers wrapped their arms around her one last time, the youngest one shouting, "Huggy!" It was a spontaneous moment of joy as they embraced and smiled for the camera.
They say, "Life passes in the blink of an eye." Oh, my friends, how true. I used to roll my eyes whenever my mom would warn me about the inevitable passage of time. How could I possibly envision this day when my sleep deprived body could barely stay awake to change a newborn's diaper or when my teething toddler cried for hours at a time? And what about all those nights where she would end up sleeping in my bed, her small body quick to fall asleep against the warmth of mine while I lie still listening to the sound of her breath?
Or how about all those swim lessons where she would sit on the side of the pool, only dangling the tips of her toes in the water as she stubbornly refused to get in? (She did learn how to swim, eventually.) Somehow, in the blink of an eye, she grew up. Became a teenager. Survived braces. Went to prom and graduated high school.
My little girl is 18.
Heading to college.
And I'm just along for the ride.
Saturday was surreal. As we drove to Christopher Newport University we took selfies in the car. Talked about trivial things. Joked about how much fun college life would be. She sat in the back, a small smile on her face as she listened to her music and stared through the window, the tree-lined interstate blurred by the flow of traffic.
Today was the biggest milestone moment of my daughter's entire life.
Nothing will ever be the same.
The drop-off was smooth and efficient as dozens of upperclassmen met us at our car, unpacked all her belongings and took them to her room. Everyone was smiling. Upbeat. Joyful. You could see the student volunteers were happy to be back to the place they now call home.
We didn't have to lift a finger.
They did all the work for us.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat then began unpacking and setting up her room. The most difficult part was adjusting the height of the beds as the furniture was packed so tight in the room there was nowhere to move. Thankfully the dads were with us, so they pulled out their tools and used hammers and socket wrenches to get the frames adjusted. Then it was time for the moms to step in and help make the beds while the girls unpacked and put their things away.
Later in the day, Rich worked on getting the cable set up for the TV and syncing the printer with the girls' laptops while we hung framed photos and other decorations around the room. It was an all-day work session for the parents, but I didn't mind one bit.
My daughter wanted me there.
I was needed.
It was my last chance to be a full-time mom, helping my daughter settle in.
Many people write letters to their children when they head to college, leaving them in sealed envelopes somewhere in their child's dorm room. I didn't want to leave a sappy letter or card that might make her feel worse reading it and I most certainly didn't want her to pine for her family back home. Instead, I chose to jot down a few reminders and pieces of advice on post-it notes as we were driving to the school, then I hid them all around her room as I helped her unpack.
As the sun began to set and the last frame was hung, it was time to clear the packing materials, take some final photos, and say our farewells.
She walked with us to our car. Our parting was brief - a hug that was a little longer, a little tighter followed by, "This isn't goodbye, but see you soon!"
Then she walked away towards her dorm and we sat there a few minutes more, caught in the wonder of it all.
There were no tears.
Only the reminder that no matter where she goes, she will always be our little girl.