the hardest part

the hardest part post image

Coming home to the empty bedroom is the hardest part. She took all the things she loved, and cleaned up the rest. Filled bags with old Vans and ballet flats to donate. Now her room looks like a fake teenage bedroom in a suburban housing tract model home.

The week before she left, she brought down a small stack of books that she planned to bring with her. She’d curated them carefully; she could only bring four suitcases to school, fifty pounds each. Books are heavy.


She took my copy of A Room With A View. My favorite. I let her.

I sat on her bed in her empty room, the night we got back. Crying, of course. I looked at what remained on her bookshelf. Four shelves full, books crammed into every space. She’d read just about every one over the course of a childhood. Every word.

There it was: her childhood in a bookshelf. It was what I kept thinking, in the days before she left. This is the end of her childhood. A week before, I’d gone up to her room when she wasn’t home. She’d started laying out things that she planned to take, and propped up in the middle of it all was her doll, Cookie. She’d named her when she was almost two. For months I’d asked what her baby’s name was, and finally one day she told me: Cookie. Cookie is a small doll, the perfect size to fit in the crook of a two-year-old’s arm, the perfect size for squeezing into a suitcase when you go to Italy at eleven.

Or to college at eighteen. I picked that doll up, held her to my chest and sobbed. Said goodbye.

Chris and I saw the film Boyhood this weekend. It was eerie in a way. The boy in the film is exactly L’s age. The film starts with him being six in 2001, just as she was, his mother reading Harry Potter to him and his sister at bedtime. It ends with him at eighteen, leaving for college. His mother cries on the day he leaves, says, This is the worst day of my life. I didn’t feel that way when we left L at school, although I wasn’t sending off my last child, as the mother in the film is. Still, seeing that boy grow up over the course of two hours and forty-five minutes is a mesmerizing thing, and sort of terrible if you’ve just left your daughter at college all the way across the country. Her childhood flew by too. Not two-hours-and-forty-five-minutes flew, but flew.


It would be harder, though, if she were unhappy. She’s not. She’s making friends, she’s thrilled about her individualized studies program, she’s navigating New York City like a native. She responds to my texts like she promised she would, and calls to tell about her day. She’s visited two art museums in her first week.

It’s always the last goodbye that we parents dread the most, isn’t it? Her dad and I spent the morning with her, picking up paper and pens for her dorm room; she had a meeting to get to for her program. We found a spot on a quiet street and exchanged our hugs. It would have been harder if she fell apart, but she didn’t. She just said, Oh, Mama, and hugged me like she did when I was sad when she was two, when she kissed me square on the mouth and said you my best friend. Then she hugged us once more, turned the corner and walked up Broadway to her meeting, looking like someone who knew where she was going. We followed her with our eyes, our girl, until she slipped into the crowd.

35 comments… add one
  • Lindsey Sep 2, 2014 @ 16:22

    Weeping. xoxo

  • Kim Sep 2, 2014 @ 16:25

    Goodness, you have me in tears here. Best of luck to her, although it doesn’t sound like she needs it. xo

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:01

      You can send the good luck my way though, Kim. 😉

  • Stacey Sep 2, 2014 @ 17:15

    Oh my, makes me want to hold on tightly even though he’s only 8.

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:02

      I’m always a believer in holding on as tightly as they’ll let you, Stacey!

  • Beth lehman Sep 2, 2014 @ 18:38

    Beautifully written. Goodness. I ache at the idea of my own children leaving in a few year’s time while at the same time feeling the freedom I had at age 17, when my parents dropped me off at college…. That first year was breathtakingly beautiful in so many ways! What a gift your relationship with her is.

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:03

      Yes, Beth, it’s always hearing about the world from their perspective that balances our loss. This is what they’re meant to do!

  • amy Sep 2, 2014 @ 18:40

    What a grand adventure she will have. And what a good job you’ve done as her mother, if she has no problem going cross-country to start her next chapter. Best of everything to you both. x

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:05

      She’s done a pretty good job as my daughter too. 🙂 Thanks for the good wishes, Amy!

  • janet Sep 2, 2014 @ 20:04

    Patricia, you have captured what so many of us have, or are experiencing. I will share this with my other friends who have done this very thing this very year. Although D and I have been through this, two for one, as is usual with us, we never lose the pang of empathy for our friends experiencing those happy sadnesses. Thank you for being able to share what you feel, and giving voice to what we know, but cannot articulate quite so well. JR

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:08

      Oh Janet, my friend. Yes, “happy sadnesses” is such a good way of thinking of these parts of life. Thank you for such sweet words of support.

  • Sue Broderick Sep 2, 2014 @ 21:21

    I think the lump in my throat will never go away.
    L. is a wonder, just like her mother.

  • Sarah Sep 3, 2014 @ 2:02

    I haven’t been able to write about my daughter leaving yet. So bittersweet.

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 8:10

      It’s so hard, isn’t it Sarah? A happy sadness, as my friend Janet wrote in an earlier comment. Hang in there!

  • Kristin Sep 3, 2014 @ 10:04

    You got me Tricia. I was doing fine until the end of your post.

    It’s great. L didn’t break down and left confidently. That says you’ve both done your job very well.

    Do you feel a heaviness in your chest, by your heart? I would. But as you know from H already, it fades as time passes, when the newness of the change is accepted; and especially when you meet again and ‘see’ their okay.

    Luckily, they’re there together. -And texting with her sounds fun.

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 21:35

      Yes, Kristin, it’s strange but I actually do feel a heaviness around my heart. So heavy the day we packed her up to leave for New York. It’s not just a metaphor, and I’m guessing you know the feeling too. It’s getting lighter now; the heaviness only comes in fits and starts. I talked to L on the phone for half an hour today, about her classes, which thrill her. Heart-lightening talk, for sure.

  • Susan Sep 3, 2014 @ 11:30

    I am misty eyed! Beautiful blog posts, and dreading when I face the same thing. Thanks for sharing. Being a good mama is hard work, my friend! Looks like you did it very, very well!

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 21:37

      It’s so good to hear from old friends, and fellow mamas, Susan. These feelings are so very universal.

  • Rosa Sep 3, 2014 @ 14:49

    I was pretty teary-eyed throughout, until I got to the last paragraph:

    “Oh, Mama, you my best friend”

    Then, I just lost it and had to explain to my husband why his wife was blubbering.

    These are the exact words my now 8yo daughter would say to me, as she cupped one of my cheeks in her hand as a little toddler.

    Now, I must leave you with this!

    Slipping Through My Fingers – Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried:

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 21:41

      Yep, Rosa, cupped cheeks also went along with L’s you my best friend talk. Crazy that a two-year-old knows how to nurture, huh? But she did, and she still does.

      You trying to break me in half with that video? 😉 Actually, it made me smile. I’m all cried out. Lulu was a big lover of musicals, and Mamma Mia was a favorite, once upon a time.

      • Rosa Sep 4, 2014 @ 6:56

        It is such a sweet song. It popped into my head as I read your entry and I just had to share hehe.

        I’m so glad it made you smile:)

        So many future memories are in store for both of you. Mama-daughter bonds are so very special!

  • gretchen Sep 3, 2014 @ 16:38

    I’ve been anticipating this posting, you exceeded my expectation! A new chapter in all our lives as the young ones fly the nest. Be brave, Mama, and know you did the best job ever. xo GG

    • patricia Sep 3, 2014 @ 21:43

      Thank you, Gretchen. That means a special lot, coming from you. xo right back.

  • Gabi Allen Sep 4, 2014 @ 2:17

    You make me cry. – Aleisha told us a few days ago that she wants to go to Germany for 11th grade. I would have loved to do an exchange year when I was sixteen. – So we will let her do it. I feel already how much I will miss her. I told her that I’m afraid she will not want to come back. She ensured me that she wants to finish high school here. And she already decided to do an au pair year and then study in Scottland [of all places] :). She recently put a box on the attic, in which she stores things she wants to keep intact, for her to take when she leaves home. It’s true like they always said im preschool, that the childhood years went by fast and yes my girl too seems to know where she is going, by intuition or make belief, or maybe both. Either works. 🙂

    • patricia Sep 5, 2014 @ 8:10

      Oh Gabi, nothing like a girl who knows what she wants! Just like mine. The box in the attic says so much. She’s making the life she wants. How wonderful that you can let your own girlhood desires influence your support of hers. She will appreciate you always for it, I’m sure. (Get a good phone plan for her! Texts, phone calls and Skype make the world seem so much smaller these days. Texting and talking to my girl have made these first weeks so much easier.)

    • patricia Sep 5, 2014 @ 8:12

      P.S. I still owe you that BOD conversation! Maybe you can come to the NBTS picnic on the 18th?

      • Gabi Allen Sep 5, 2014 @ 9:24

        Hi Tricia,
        Just added NBTS picnic to my calendar. Looking forward to see you there. 🙂

  • Nancy Sep 4, 2014 @ 14:04

    I am sitting here with a lump in my throat. My two boys are having their Spanish lesson just ten steps away. In Cuba, when someone leaves the island, you just say, “Se fue!” It explains everything….

    Ella fue! Es bueno, pero hace que su dolor de corazón. 🙂

    • patricia Sep 5, 2014 @ 8:21

      Sí, ella fue. Tengo dolor de corazón–y esperanza también. xo.

  • Carrie Sep 11, 2014 @ 18:51

    OK, I’m crying over here, too. I ache for your sense of loss, and I celebrate along with you all the wonder of the next adventure. Thinking of you.

    • patricia Sep 12, 2014 @ 10:28

      It gets a little easier as the days go by, Carrie. My girl is taking a writing class called Collage:From Art to Life and Back, and an interdisciplinary course called The Politics, Ethics and Aesthetics of Photography! Plus a film photography class and another on public art! How can I not be thrilled for her?! Plus, she has been very good about texting and calling. It’s all good. Thank you for the commiseration.

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