Part of My Heart is Halfway Across the Country

The worry of leaving your child at college for the first time.


I am writing this while sitting on an airplane, having left my daughter (and part of my heart) in Madison, Wisconsin. My husband and I just spent the past few days moving Lissie into her dorm at the University of Wisconsin. It was a very surreal experience. It feels like moments ago she was a tiny baby—how did we get here so quickly?

Looking down at Lake Michigan, the endless water reminds me of how far apart we will be. Leaving your child at college is an extraordinary milestone. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done. Sure, we’ve left our children at camp, but that was a whole different thing. There, we were sending them to a fully-supervised, scheduled-to-the-minute environment where they would be part of a surrogate family.

So who will Lissie’s surrogate family be? She lives in a dorm with less than a hundred other 17 to 19 year olds, many of whom have never been away from their own families for more than an evening. Their supervision is a residential advisor at the school—barely older or wiser than they are.

The students will meet professors, but only for a few hours a week. Professors can guide them academically, but not account for their whereabouts most of the time. Having spent much of the year reading about Lauren Spierer, the Scarsdale student who is missing from Indiana University, Lissie’s safety weighs heavily on my mind.

For the first time in her life, I will not know where she is every second or what her plans are for dinner—a familiar question here each night of senior year when I didn’t know if I’d be seeing her or she’d be at the library or studying and dining at a friend’s house. Yet, when she lived here with us, it was my right to know where she’d be. Tonight, I have no idea where she’s eating dinner.

How will I know she’s safe when I don’t even know where she is or if she got back to the dorm that night? I’ve been told I just have to trust and believe she’s fine but will I be able to do that or will I be constantly filled with anxiety and fear?

I know this was the goal, for her to be independent and go off to college. My hope for her is not only that she will learn how to think and analyze in class but to figure out how to get through life and navigate and problem solve through unfamiliar territory. I want her to look at a day where she has three classes, a paper due, a quiz, laundry overflowing and a community service meeting and to get herself through it.

I want her to be happy and to find friends who share her interests—a daunting prospect when you look around and nearly everyone is a stranger. Yet having done it myself and knowing her as I do, I’m confident she’ll be fine. How exciting is it to have the whole world out there, ready to be explored?!

We’ve reached the other side of Lake Michigan, the distance between us growing. In another hour or so we will land in New York and start our new normal, just us and the boys. When I do my mental roll call, I will only have to account for two children. The third is off on her own: studying, learning, cheering at football games, and eating meals with her new surrogate family.

I hope she’s safe.

Debbie Raho September 06, 2012 at 08:30 PM
You said it like it is Shari. Great article. Our daughter is at Syracuse University. It is so hard to be happy & sad at the same time. We will never stop worrying.It is the best time of their life & a great opportunity.
richard ludgin September 11, 2012 at 10:18 PM
ESTHER would NEVER let her kids go to school halfway across the country!!!


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