I recently had the honor of being interviewed by author and licensed educational psychologist Jessika Shields. Jessika hosts the podcast Parent Them Successful and is one of the most articulate interviewers I’ve ever met! We talked about “Are You Prepared for Your Child’s Transition to College?” and I loved our conversation. While I’m certainly not a parenting expert, I have experienced what it was like to take my oldest daughter to college and I did work with social emotional learning products for a very long time. Jessika and I talk about both in this episode which reminded me of the piece I wrote below.
Was I prepared for my child’s transition to college? Was I prepared to bring my daughter home from the hospital as a newborn? My answer to both questions were surprisingly the same and the inspiration for this essay, The Three of Us Together in the Car.
I slide into the seat and pull the passenger door closed. Inhaling deeply, my lungs fill and my ribcage expands before I exhale with relief. The last few days have been a whirlwind. But now, finally, I get a moment of peace in the quiet stillness, closed inside the safety of the car.
Eric is beside me in the driver’s seat. Reilly, our first born, is buckled in the back. Her bright, round, curious blue eyes look intently out the window. I wonder what she’s thinking.
It’s just the three of us together in the car now.
We have all of the items we think we might need, but, honestly, it’s a guess. I don’t know what will be most useful. Lots of people gave us advice. There were books and articles to help. Make sure you have this… She will definitely need that… Our daughter loved this… Who do we listen to?
We’ve been thinking about this day, planning for it for so long.
A pit grows in my stomach. There are so many unknowns. Are we ready for this? Can we afford this? What’s going to happen next? What haven’t we prepared for?
In this moment, she’s just two days old, strapped into her carseat in the spot right behind me. I stare through the windshield, smiling and scared, blind to everything beyond the three of us together here in this car. Tearful, I can’t believe this moment has arrived.
It was nine long months of pregnancy with joy and challenge along the way. Breech presentation, c-section, the cord wrapped around her neck, hip dysplasia, problems with breastfeeding. And now our baby girl is packed in the car with the two of us, her anxious and proud parents, headed home from the hospital.
I stare through the windshield, worrying about the dangers that could be ahead—SIDS, whooping cough, autism.
I feel calmer when I imagine the exciting times to come—first words, first steps, cute outfits, baby cuddles.
No one talks about the grief that comes with parenthood. All-encompassing love kicks the door wide open for heartbreak. I was nostalgic when we lost her pacifier on purpose. I cried for her disappointment when Santa delivered a fancy playhouse to the neighbor’s home instead of ours. And then cried again when she left her world of make-believe behind. I grieved when social media showed friends having fun without her. When she struggled to find her place, my heart hurt. I know how lucky we are to experience the type of grief that comes with a growing child.
And now, in this moment, she’s just 18 years old, buckled into the seat behind me, ready for college in another state. This is what we were supposed to hope for—smiling and scared, blind to everything beyond this car. Tearful, I can’t believe this moment has arrived.
The three of us together in the car, once again.
It was 18 long years of parenting with joy and challenges along the way. Late-nights, diaper explosions, preschool drop-offs, making friends, becoming a big sister, first day of kindergarten, the little girl hiding behind my leg, Halloween costumes, taking the bus to middle school, puberty, team tryouts, learning to drive, working hard for good grades, travel tournaments, victories, disappointments, volunteering, proms, concerts, best friends, boyfriends, tutors, applications, tests, celebrations, and heartbreaks. And now our baby is packed in the car with the two of us, her anxious and proud parents, headed to her new home on a college campus.
I stare through the windshield, once again worrying about the dangers that could be ahead. This time it’s homesickness, drugs and alcohol, sexual assault.
I feel calmer when I imagine the exciting times to come—diverse new friends, college football games, research opportunities, the chance to explore her passions.
I’m grateful we made it here. Many families don’t get this moment. But here we are, so very fortunate in this fragile life, the three of us together in the car.
Two days old or newly 18, my emotions are the same as Eric starts the engine—excited, proud, scared, anxious—thinking about that precious girl. Blue eyes staring intently out the window, she’s looking towards her future, buckled-up in the backseat, the three of us together in the car, ready for the ride.