Leaving Her At College The Second Year

I’d been driving in the dark for only about five minutes when I realized I never took her picture in front of her new house. Or in her new bedroom. Or her kitchen. Or her yard.

And I started to cry as I watched the lights of Salt Lake City fade in my rear view mirror.

Leaving her at college the second time wasn’t easier – it was just different.

I wanted to believe my friends who said not to worry, that the freshman year is the hardest. I wanted to believe that I could leave her this year and I would be OK with it.

I wanted to believe that I could do this part of ordinary, everyday life, without breaking down.

Turns out, I couldn’t.


It all went pretty well for the days leading up to the ‘last’ day. I’d occasionally have to bite my lip when the thoughts of leaving her all those miles away crept into my brain – like when we were in the housewares section of Target and all I really needed to do was find a curtain rod, and instead, I found the overwhelm of this phase of life smashing my heart to pieces.

It made me feel dumb. Weak. Not at all like the confident woman I am most of the time.

When it comes to leaving my children, I find my kryptonite.

The second year is different; gone is the security of dropping her into a dorm where there are RAs and reasonable expectations. The second year means she’s on her own – her own house, her own food, her own hours.

Suddenly she’s thinking about Costco and stocking up on food. She’s wondering where she’ll find a laundromat, and how many baking sheets she’ll need to furnish her kitchen. She’s suddenly confronted with deciding on a major, finding a job and roommates.

The second year no one is watching her.

The second year the adrenaline is gone.

The second year she’s on her own – unless she calls for help.

Sunrise Over Salt Flats


It’s been a couple of weeks since I backed out of her driveway and made my way across the desert, through the mountains and back home. I’ve been able to walk through her bedroom door, pick up her discarded socks and make her bed. I’m thinking of moving a few things around in there, actually. I don’t think she’ll be back around long enough to care.

She’s sent some photos of her new bedroom – photos are hung on the walls, and the duffel bags are all unpacked. She seems comfortable. I’m relieved to see the carbon monoxide detector we bought her is still plugged in – I know she thought we were crazy, but our girl in a basement apartment? Imagine the dangers…

Life seems to be settling down a little bit; last night she sent photos of her homemade pizza dinner, and today, a quick Snapchat from the Farmer’s Market – I could see she had a bag of fresh corn in her hand, both eerily familiar to the patterns she left back at home.

I still keep my phone on at night. I still smile when I get a text or an Instagram glimpse into her world, but now, after collapsing back into my old routines, I’m second guessing myself. Maybe this second year she will be OK – even if no one is watching her. Maybe the adrenaline will be replaced with pride. Maybe, on her own, she’ll remember what we taught her after all. And maybe she won’t even need to call for help – she’ll just let us know how extraordinary her ordinary life is, back in college for her second year.

I wondered if I could do this ordinary, everyday life, without breaking down. Without her.

Turns out, maybe I can.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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  1. A part of me just wanted to ignore everything you so beautifully wrote because my time of letting my first bird fly the nest if coming so quickly!! In just two years I will be dropping of my son and it just kills me. I know that is what they are supposed to do, and I’m thrilled for your daughter and for you. You have done your job and she is finding her own way. All wonderful things. But it is bittersweet! Thank you! xo
    Kathy Radigan recently posted…Thank You Twin AMy Profile

    1. Like many parts of parenting, the ‘what ifs’ will drive you crazy. There was a certain comfort in knowing where she would be, what her school was like and how far she’d have to travel to come home. The ache of not having her here for family dinners, walks for coffee, watching her pole vault or ski and making a mess in the kitchen is by far the most challenging part of it all. You’ll make it through, somehow. I’m sure of that.

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