Coming back home, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It is done," I sighed.
My husband and I had just returned to Los Angeles after packing and shipping her things, flying and installing her.
We'd hugged her goodbye and cried. There were three of us at home now instead of four, and a room that for years had been the subject of arguments over neatness was tidy. We had taken our daughter to college.
During the time leading up to her delivery -- which had started just about nine months earlier with the filling-in of applications -- activity had made the reality of the goal vague. As with so many milestones in life, busyness blurred purpose.
In April, there were the stomach-wrenching trips to the mailbox, seeking fat envelopes and fearing thin ones, which signaled rejection. The school our daughter most wanted to attend was the last to respond, and the wait was torturous. Then, on a Saturday, the mailbox-filling manila envelope from the Connecticut college arrived: She was in!
And that's when it literally hit home: My daughter, my firstborn, would be going 3,000 miles away.
During the summer, I managed to block that hard truth as the school whose envelope had tortured us with its late arrival couldn't stop dropping us mail -- about laundry services, Internet hookups, dorm and school supplies. I responded to the practical, and emotional, onslaught in the manner 18 years of motherhood had taught me: I made lists. By mid-August, a trunk, duffel bag and several boxes were shipped. The lists were working.
What didn't appear on any list, however, was how to cope with the mixture of pride and pain of the day. Waiting in the taxi that would take us to the airport, my husband and I fought tears as our 14-year-old son emerged from the house to say goodbye to his big sister. "When did he get taller than her?" I pondered, furrowing my brow against the gathering tears as my children exchanged a hug and a joke that only they would understand.
The drive north took hours longer than expected, as we made our way through traffic in our rented van. Although I was in no hurry to complete this mission, the stasis was agonizing, and I found myself feeling terribly blue. Images of a sweethearted girl with whom I'd watched "Sesame Street" and sold Girl Scout cookies, to whom I'd explained the ways of bite plates and pantyhose, filtered through the mounds of stalled metal surrounding us, and thickened my throat with melancholy. I swallowed hard against it.
And then: dormitory move-in day. Treading gingerly around boxes and suitcases covering every inch of floor space, we diligently worked to turn a walk-in-closet-sized room into something approximating hominess. We had until 5 p.m., at which point the schedule cooly stated, that freshmen must gather for their class picture -- and it would be time for "family farewells."
At 5:03 p.m., the three of us still wading knee-deep in Styrofoam, my daughter gasped, "We've gotta go," and rushed us from her room.
A stream of young people filled up a gently sloping hill that led to the photo area. My daughter, joined by two dormmates she'd somehow managed to meet, turned and gave each of us a hug. "I'll see you in a few months," she said. And then, in the blink of her parents' brimming eyes, she disappeared into the moving tide of freshmen.
On the morning of her birth, I had swaddled her in blankets and held her close. On this evening in late August, I'd opened my arms and let her go. In both instances, I'd delivered her. But this delivery, I realized, was the true reward of all my maternal efforts. I had brought my daughter into life, and now I had delivered her, vibrant and eager to embrace the world.
Still, as my husband and I held hands and walked back to the car, I did, finally, cry.
Elyce Wakerman is the author of "Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away." She teaches composition at CSUN and is currently working on a book about the year her daughter left for college.