Well, the day finally came.
I thought I was mentally and emotionally prepared for it.
But I wasn't.
We dropped her off at her college, and I bawled like a baby. I don't know, maybe it's the pregnancy/baby hormones still going through my system or something because I'm normally not so emotional...but Afton's moving out really hit me hard.
We had a "Good Luck in College" type of going-away party for her a few days before she left. I decorated the house with balloons of her college colors.
And I made a cake.
The kids all bought her "presents" of items that she would be needing at college.
She unwrapped shampoo, cleaning supplies, laundry soap... you know, all that stuff that she never thought of having to buy for herself while she lives at home!
When the move-out day arrived, I took a few last pictures of her in her childhood bedroom.
And here she is downstairs, waiting for us to load everything into the van and be on our way.
On the ride to college, she could hardly contain her excitement!
When we arrived at the campus, there was a whole mess of kids moving into the dorms. It was so busy and so crowded! What an ordeal. First we had to check in and get her room key. Then we had to check the room for anything that was broken or damaged and fill out a sheet with all that information. Once we turned in that paperwork we were finally given the okay to move her in. The elevators were too busy for us to use, so we had to walk everything up three flights of stairs. Up and down, up and down, until every last box was in her room. The stairway was packed with people doing the same thing we were. This was not an easy task!
Once all her things were brought up to her room, we started to unpack.
And she began decorating her side of the room.
While Rich went out to get us some lunch, I got busy helping her unpack. I hung things up in her closet and tried to keep myself busy so that I wouldn't think too much about the fact that we will soon be driving home without her. I was determined to keep things cheerful for Afton's sake. This was such an important day for her! And it really was exciting, even for me. I had fun helping her to set up her room.
Soon her roommate arrived and we met her and her parents, and then Rich and I headed over to Target to buy Afton a few last minute things. We figured it was a good time to bug out for a little while to let her and her roommate get to know each other.
So Rich and spent some time walking the aisles at Target. I picked out another pillow for Afton's bed, and Rich got her a few snack foods to keep in the room's mini fridge. After about an hour we headed back to the university. As we were parking the car, I got this text from Afton:
Turns out her roommate had left to eat dinner with her parents, and Afton suddenly found herself alone in her room for the first time. And it felt strange, so she wanted us to be with her! Ahhhh, my baby. It felt good to be needed, and I happily hurried back to her.
We spent some more time with her in the room -- me helping her to set things up and Rich walking around the room with disinfectant wipes making the place clean. He also took the time to show her the nearest stairway and fire escapes, and he talked to her about safety issues that only a fire fighter would think of.
And we took some more pictures.
Did I forget to mention that Aiden was with us, too? Afton took some time to cuddle her baby brother, saying good-bye to him.
Sweet little Aiden had no idea what was going on that day. He was just along for the ride! But me, I kept thinking to myself, will he even get to know her? She won't be living in our home and seeing him everyday, so how can he get to know his older sister? Watching her with him and thinking those thoughts almost set me to tears.
The moment finally came when it was time for us to head back home...without Afton. This by far was the hardest part of the day for me. I hugged her a couple of times, smiled, and said, "Have fun! Be safe!" and she said, "Okay, I will."
Rich and I stepped outside the door and into the hall. I turned and quickly snapped this picture of her.
"BYE!!" she said, and she shut the door to her room and left me standing on the other side. And I swear, at that very moment, I heard the umbilical cord "snap!" -- I really did!
I stood there at her door for a moment, then quickly turned and grabbed the baby stroller and started pushing it down the hall towards the elevator, following after Rich. I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry, I'm not going to cry.... is what I was saying to myself.
Rich turned to look over his shoulder at me and asked, "You okay?" and that did it. I put my hand over my mouth, shook my head no... and I started crying like a big baby, right there in the hall just a few feet from her door. Rich hugged me and said encouraging things like, "She's going to be fine. We can visit her. She's not that far." I sank my face into his shoulder and tried my best to choke back the sobs. It wasn't that I was worried about her. And it had nothing to do with the distance or how often we could visit and she could visit us. It wasn't those things that made me so upset. It was all about how my baby has grown up and has moved out of our family home and that I won't see her everyday or walk by her room to tell her to clean it or to tell her it's late - time to get some sleep... or any of that parenting stuff. She's grown up now, and although that makes me very proud, it also makes me very sad. It's what is known as bittersweet. (I really understand the meaning of that word now!)
After a minute or two, I pulled myself together and we left her building and spent some time walking around the campus. We shopped in the student book store (which sells waaaaay more than books, let me tell you!) and we bought some college t-shirts to cheer ourselves up. Yes, Rich was bummed, too.
We found a nice, quiet area of the campus and stopped to sit a while. It had a coy pond, and Rich spent some time checking out the fish.
Or maybe he was thinking about his baby girl and how quickly she grew up and that she is now living on a college campus, and he might have been wondering how in the world did that happen??
Or he was looking at the fish. I'll never know.
As for me, I spent my quiet time nursing and cuddling my baby boy.
It was very calm and peaceful there; the perfect way to end our day. I sat and thought about how neat it is that at the same time my daughter is getting settled into her dorm room, I am nursing her baby brother on the other side of her college campus. Who would have thought that I'd have a new baby when one of my "old" babies goes off to college?
So I cheered up some, and on the ride home that night I was feeling pretty good about things. But then when I got home and got busy tucking the kids into bed for the night, I walked by this ...
Afton's empty bedroom.
And oh, it felt and looked so empty. No scattered clothes and towels on the floor. No papers or books or the normal clutter on her desk. No posters on her walls. Just her car keys hanging up on her magnetic calendar. The room was so void of her, and I couldn't help it -- the tears came again. Big time.
That night I sat in bed with a box of tissue.
But the next day was a new day, and all the business of this chaotic house helped to distract me. It's been a week now and things are going good. Avery has moved into Afton's old bedroom and has made it hers. School will be starting next week and we have been busy preparing for that. Afton and I text almost every day, and that helps me, too, but I still miss her being here. How can I help but to miss her? I've lived with that kid for 18 years! It's impossible for me not to feel her absence around here.
I know, I know...she will come home to visit. Yea, that's nice and all, but it's not the same.
It's not the same at all.