My Daughter Left Home for College and I’m a Wreck

In the midst of everything that was happening in the world in 2020, (the pandemic, racial injustice, xenophobic violence, political division, and more), I was also experiencing (in my own little world) major parental separation anxiety. The mere thought of my first-born daughter moving away to college would make me irritable, tense, and teary-eyed.

My daughter was a high school senior in 2019-20. Not only did the pandemic force classes to fully move online, it caused the graduating Class of 2020 everywhere to miss out on many of their special, in-person activities. While my daughter was disappointed that events, like senior picnic, prom, and graduation were cancelled, she was hopeful that everything would be better and back to “old normal” by the time she had to leave for college in the fall.

However, due to a surge in COVID cases at the time, we were informed that there wouldn’t be in-person instruction in the fall either. In compliance with public health orders, classes would continue to be held remotely. There wouldn’t be a college move-in day, after all. My daughter’s hopes were shattered. She had been so eager and ready to go, too!

with my firstborn (2007)

I, on the other hand, wasn’t ready to let go. In fact, I couldn’t contain my feelings of boundless joy and gratitude for the reprieve. Yes! My baby would be home! (I’m selfish, I know…)

One would think that the extra year would have helped me get used to the idea of my daughter eventually leaving home, right? Well, it’s been several weeks since I dropped her off at college and I’m still a weepy wreck.

Up until a few days ago, I was still setting out a fourth dinner plate at the table. I was still expecting to almost trip on her yoga mat that she sometimes forgets to put away after a workout in front of the living room TV. I was still expecting to hear the familiar sound her bedroom doorknob would make whenever she’d open or close her door. These days, we leave her door open for ventilation. The symbolism helps, too.

Thankfully, we have been keeping in touch since she’s been at school. Sometimes we’ll do a quick video call just to check in and wave hello. Once in a while, she’ll share tidbits about her off-campus explorations with her new friends. Other times, I’ll listen to her tell me about her new classes, like how her French instructor is “super chill.” (Comment dit-on « super chill » en français??)

As my daughter’s academic and social activities ramp up, I know that these homesick calls will become infrequent. The anticipation of it makes me blue, but I know that it’s normal. She’s supposed to need me less! That’s the goal, after all. Eventually, she will find her way.

“To A Daughter Leaving Home”

it seems like only yesterday, but I wrote this essay in October 1991

Recently, I accepted the nomination to participate in a fun blogging challenge called the 10-day Travel Photo Challenge. As I rummaged through storage box after storage box in search of two specific scrapbooks containing some of my favorite travel snapshots, I came across something I hadn’t seen in years: a college essay I had written for my first-year English class.

The essay was an exercise in exploring and analyzing imagery and symbolism in literature. I had based my analysis on the poem, “To A Daughter Leaving Home,” by American poet, Linda Pastan:

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving
goodbye.

—Linda Pastan

from The Imperfect Paradise, 1988
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York, NY
Copyright 1988 by Linda Pastan.
All rights reserved.
this is my younger daughter… please don’t grow up so fast! (2021)

Some excerpts from my essay:

“In the first line, ‘When I taught you,’ the mother points out that she is an authority figure, implying that it is she who teaches and it is ‘you’ being taught. Lines 2 and 3, ‘at eight to ride a bicycle, loping along beside you’ imply that the mother was not firmly guiding her daughter… she is somewhat fearful and not completely sure if she is truly willing to let go and let her daughter completely ride away.”

“Pastan shows how the daughter gradually grows… The mother realizes that as the round wheels revolve, her own mouth takes on that same roundness (line 7) to express her awe and surprise in both her and her daughter’s progress.”

“The ‘pumping, pumping’ (line 18) can be the overall theme of (the poem). The daughter ‘pumps’ on the bike (pedals) to help her get to her destination… The mother’s heart can also be said to be pumping in fear of her daughter learning and gaining experience. Perhaps, the mother fears that her daughter cannot successfully ride without her being there. But, then again, the mother’s heart could be pumping in excitement because she’s able to be there for her daughter at this momentous occasion in her life.”

some encouraging feedback on my essay!

Linda Pastan’s poem has given me the reassurance that what I’m feeling is normal. It’s universal. It, too, shall pass.

Today, the poem is even more meaningful to me since I now have the experience and perspective of both the “mother” and the “daughter” described in the poem.

As a mother, I can relate to the mother whose mouth was “rounding in surprise” in the poem. On college move-in day, I recall my own mouth forming the same shape in awe under my face mask. The genuine look of wonder on my daughter’s face revealed just how happy she was to be on campus (finally).

As a daughter, I can relate to the daughter who was “screaming with laughter” in the poem. The action describes my own excitement as I went off to college all those years ago.

It’s not about me.

On one hand, I’m thrilled my daughter is learning new things. On the other hand, I’m terrified she’s learning new things! I know that she’s focusing on her academic goals, but I also hope that she stays safe, eats well, gets enough sleep, and manages her budget wisely.

When I find myself missing my daughter and getting all weepy, I squash the feeling by reminding myself that I shouldn’t be sad. She left home, but she did not leave me. It’s not about me at all.

My daughter is simply taking the steps necessary to turn her own dreams into reality. During this transition, I need to step back and let her do her thing.

As she adjusts to her new life away from home, I, too, have to adjust. It might take me a little time, but that’s OK.

We’re learning.

How did you feel when you left home?

How did you cope when your child(ren) left the nest?

6 Comments

    1. Hello Prachi, I know, it’s hard making the adjustment, isn’t it? Let’s hang in there and look forward to when they come home to visit from school! Thank you for reading and for your comment.

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