Welcome to Part 2 of my three-part series chronicling the buildup to the college drop-off and the aftershock of sending my first child off to school. Last week was The Freshman Shopping List and starting to acknowledge that big changes are coming. This week is packing up, trying to process, and anticipating saying goodbye. And next week will focus on The New Normal.

Letís get to ripping this Band-Aid off Ö God, this is all so weird. Like really, really weird.

In my head, I know weíre dropping Riley off at school this weekend. I mean itís on my calendar with a sad emoticon and everything. (I recently learned you can add emoticons to your calendar fields. Needless to say, Iíve been overusing the sad ones lately.)

So itís not that Iím in denial or anything, itís all just very surreal.

Iíve watched all the Target bags accumulate into a little Devilís Tower-like mound in the corner of the basement. Iíve seen her friends already start to leave, the goodbyes getting more and more frequent. Iíve even caught myself hugging her every time she walks by me in the house. And while Iím not too sure how she feels about that, I really donít care. Iím not doing it for her; Iím doing it for me.

And this week, her college textbooks have started coming in the mail. And she and her roommate already have plans to go to their first college hockey game. And my eyes, theyíre doing this bizarre thing where they focus immediately on her college ID card now whenever she opens her wallet. Itís like I canít look away.

But one of the strangest things I did this week was add her dormís mailing address to her contact name in my phone. Because, after Saturday, she wonít be living here anymore. That one was a big, drippy slice of reality. Too big. The kind that dangles off the edge of the plate.

Yet, at the very same time all these things are happening, itís still been business as usual
around the house, so thereís this odd sensation that the whole thing could, actually, just be a
dream. That maybe sheís not going off to college after all. That maybe, come Saturday morning, weíll just get up and Iíll make pancakes and then the girls will fight about who gets the bathroom first. And nothing will change. Such a big part of me wants that.

Because every day I still get up and find Riley in the kitchen, earbuds in, head dangling over her Mrs. DiCaprio coffee mug, wet towel lying half in and half out of her bedroom. (Iím sure sheíll continue to work on that in the dorm.) And Iím still more or less cooking for four almost every night.

And thereís been no notable reduction in laundry load size or grocery bags or stray flip-flops lying under the coffee table. And while, emotionally, thereís been this very obvious buildup to The Big Day, thereís also been an eerie sort of calm everywhere else because our days are still relatively the same.

So what this all really boils down to is that Iím not at all sure how the whole drop-off thing is going to go in a couple of days. Not sure at all.

My friend Sue, whose son Jesse left last week, texted me to say itís worse than any labor pains she ever felt when he was born. And the closer we get to Drop-off Day, the more I get why she said that.

See, Iím an emotional personality type to begin with, so right off the tee I have a super-high handicap going into all this. In basic terms, Iím screwed. And I know it.

Itís like Dave keeps reminding me Ö since Riley was born, her leaving for college is the single biggest change that our family has experienced. Itís a big one. Huge. (By the way, hon, you can quit reminding me. I get it.) And I cry sometimes at Concord grape jelly commercials, with all those cute little kids.

So you can only imagine what my own kid leaving for college is doing to my emotional infrastructure. Youíve seen those videos of controlled demolition blasts leveling the old casinos in Vegas, right? Well thatís how my mind is anticipating the goodbye will go. And my insides are the hotel.
Look, I went to college. I know how this works. Iíve already lived through it. But from the complete opposite side. And let me assure you, thereís absolutely no similarity between being the kid going off to school and watching your own kid go off to school. Itís apples and oranges.

Because, as parents, even though many of us have lived through the experience of leaving home and starting our adult life and fending for ourselves, that does literally nothing to prepare us to be the ones left behind.

Sure, I mean, I know what the shaky keg stand feels like and what it feels like to watch my mom get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror as I left home, tears running down my cheeks. But I have no idea what it feels like to be that mom in the mirror. For me, and all the other parents experiencing this insanely gut-wrenching milestone, this is completely uncharted, untraveled territory.

We have no way of knowing what our parents really went through when they said goodbye to us. And we wonít until weíre the parents saying goodbye to our own kids. And Iím like, seconds away from doing that, and part of me is terrified.

Now, the over/under is pretty high in my family that the car wonít even be away from the curb after we drop her off before Iím sobbing like a baby. (I mean, I can barely see the screen through my own tears right now as Iím typing, so I can only imagine what this weekend will be like.)

But the one thing I keep reminding myself is that change is good. Change is good. In fact, itís the only thing we can ever really count on as we move through our life. My friend Sue and I have talked about that, too.

So my plan, if itís even reasonable to call it a plan, is to just roll with all of these exciting and scary and wondrous moments the best that I can because theyíre coming whether Iím (weíre) ready for them or not. And it makes way more sense to me to embrace them than to reject them. After all, thatís what we taught our kids to do, isnít it?

Look, I donít claim to know a lot about anything, but what I do know with absolute certainty is that I canít live in the past and I canít live even a second ahead of where I am right now. None of us can. So Iím just going to do my best to be in the moment and to anticipate the future with the same kind of joy and enthusiasm and wonder that Riley is. Sheís embracing whatís ahead of her in the fullest possible way and, ironically, her strength is motivating me to do the same.

Funny how we spend all these years as parents giving our children the skills and the knowledge to move bravely and courageously through their life and then, almost without warning, they turn right around and give it back to us exactly when we need it most.

So Iím flying blind here. But thatís the only way weíre supposed to fly at this point. This is like this is our graduation from ďTop Gun.Ē Thatís why Iím going to close my eyes and believe, in my heart, that Dave and I have done our job well. Because the rest isnít up to us. This is where we, as parents, gracefully step aside and move out of the way.

Deep breath. Here we go Ö

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com. She is also the author of ďLIFE: It Is What It Is,Ē available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.