For the last three weeks, Ive been writing, firsthand, about the emotional path we travel as parents when we send our first child off to college. Ive been chronicling how every part of the process feelsthe highs, the lows, and everything in between. This is the third and final column in the series. I guess you can call it the afterword.

Words are amazing little tools. Most of the time, they enable us to communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings with almost pinpoint accuracy. Unfortunately, there are also times, like now, when the right words elude us. When we cant find a way to articulate how we feel, no matter how many thesauruses we use. For me, this is one of those times.

So in the interest of trying to be as authentic as I can here and give you a true peephole into my heart, the rest of my column are the most emotional highlights from the drop-off. Its the best way I can express how it all felt.

5:30 a.m. on move-in day

For Gods sake, why, of all things, did this months birth control packet have to become my countdown calendar to when Riley goes to college? The last pill in the damn cycle falls on the exact day we take her to school. So this is how Ive been counting down the days all month. I mean, really?! Its almost too ironic.

Im lucky I have all this packing and unpacking to focus on, because without anything to distract my thoughts right now, Id be screwed.

Breathe. Just breathe.

Dave: If I slashed all four tires, do you think shed suspect anything?

Me: A little too conspicuous, honey. Good effort, though.

Oh God, shes about to say goodbye to the dog. This is not going to go well.

Me: I cant look at her, Dave. If I look at her or open my mouth, Im gonna lose it.

Dave: I know. Why do you think I keep avoiding her?

Libby: Mom, are you OK?

Me: (No response.)
Libby: Youre OK, mom. Its gonna be OK. You still have me for another three years.

Me: I know, honey. (Sniff.)
Dave: Lis, you OK?

Me: (No response. Just tears.)

Dave: Im dreading going home.

Me: I know. I dont want to see that shes not there.

Dave: I hate this.

Me: I know. Its brutal. Its like someone hit me in the stomach with a telephone pole.

Me: Table for four, please.

Dave: Uh, hon, we only need a table for three.

Me: (Tears.)

Dave: Were gonna be OK.

Me: I know. But I dont like whats between here and OK. All I want is her wet towel back on the bathroom floor. I just want to trip over her lying on the kitchen floor after cross-country practice, spooning the dog. I want to bitch at her for always having her door locked. I want to wait up until she gets home.

I miss her smelling like popcorn every weekend when she comes home from her shift at the video store. I miss cleaning up the wigs worth of hair that covers the bathroom floor every morning. I miss our Tuesday night ritual of watching Pretty Little Liars, cuddled up under the covers in my bed. I miss cooking and shopping and doing laundry for four. I miss knowing who shes with. I miss knowing what shes doing.

I want to know that shes safe. I want to hug her whenever I feel like it. I dont want to keep avoiding her empty room.

I also want her to be happy. I want her to get on with her life so she can come back to me and gush about where shes been and what shes done and who shes met. I want her to embrace her future. I want her to do what the dean of her university said at her matriculation ceremony I want her to explore and embrace and play every single key on the piano while she has the chance.

So while Id love to lie to you and say that letting her go was relatively painless, like ripping off a Band-Aid really fast, I cant. Because it wasnt. Escorting my daughter out the door and onto the rest of her life was the single most difficult thing Ive done yet as a parent. But at the very same time, it was also the most beautiful. It was bittersweet and just barely doable. Barely.

As for advice, though, I dont have any. Sorry. It is what it is and we all have to ride the wave with the goal of just staying on the board until we hit dry land again.

But we do, eventually, hit solid ground. Im sure of it. And when we do, we get to turn around and watch them ride their own beautiful wave into shore. And Im looking forward to that. Very forward.

In the meantime, enjoy the ride, babe. Ill be waiting with open arms.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.