I Survived College Drop Off

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you all to think of me as my husband and I dropped off our oldest son at college.  If you don’t care to read about my personal life, feel free to move on, but with a milestone event like this one, I thought it was worth sharing.  I survived college drop off and lived to tell about it.  And while I don’t like comparing it to grieving in its truest sense, I found that it kind of follows along with the Five Stages of Grief that we all know.


Wherever you are in your parenting journey, if you’re like me, you’ve probably been dreading college drop off since your infancy.  But it was always one of those things that was “way off in the future” – no need to think about it now.  

Sweet Sam

I had been keeping this mindset for as long as I could, but once he started senior year, I couldn’t deny it anymore.  Even this summer, I continued to think of all of the fun things that I had to look forward to, ahead of college drop off day.  I had the Haven Conference, we had summer vacation – but once we got back from summer vacation, there it was – looming and waiting for me, with nothing else standing in between us.


Senior year was the year where I felt like I was mentally preparing myself for him to leave the nest, and in some ways, I think he started preparing as well.  As one of my veteran college mom friends put it, “they dirty the nest before they leave.”  I remember reading that kids need to start mentally separating from their parents, and their behavior reflects that.  It’s almost like they’re “breaking up” with their parents.  I’ll admit it, there were days where I was ready for him to go to school.  Tired of his messes, his lazy tendencies, having to repeat myself ten times when I asked him to do something.  You get the picture.  He’s a great kid, but definitely acts like a stereotypical teenage boy in many ways.


I think my bargaining came into play with all of the activities that I had lying ahead of drop-off day.  “Once we get through vacation, then I’ll think about college drop off.”  

I survived college drop off

Between that, and the millions of little tasks, there was plenty to keep me busy and out of the reality that was coming.


The day before we dropped him off was one of the hardest for me.  It was as though his entire childhood flashed before my eyes.  Even on the day we were leaving, I was flipping through the channels, and the movie “Dinosaur” was on tv – one that he was obsessed with as a toddler, and probably watched a hundred times.  How did I get here?  Didn’t he just go to kindergarten?

I think the reality of it all hit him that day as well – he’d been in a state of denial worse than I was.  On the way to school he was the best version of himself – the kid that I knew was still in there, underneath all of that teenaged boy “stuff”.  That sweet, funny, talkative, smart kid was still there.  

Leaving for college

We stopped for breakfast on the way, and he told me, “Mom, no crying ok?”  I had been good for the most part, keeping it together.  When we arrived at his dorm, I got down to business, putting things together (and he was happy to oblige), and getting his room situated (and you can see that Flat Murphy made the trip).

College Drop Off

I took time to write up a bunch of different “Open When” notes (Open When you’re homesick, Open When your roommate is getting on your nerves, etc…), and slipped them underneath his pillow.  He really loved this and sent me a sweet text when he found them.

Open When Notes for College

If you’re thinking about doing something like this for your college student, here are the topics that I included in mine:

Open When Letter Ideas for College Students

I even put little notes of encouragement in the pockets of some of his clothes – it put my mom heart a little more at ease.

He walked us to our car, before he had to go to his dorm meeting, and we got a photo before we said good-bye.  

College Drop Off Day

This is where I had a kindergarten flashback.  On the first day of kindergarten, you could tell he wanted to cry, but was trying to keep it together.  Except this time, some tears were shed.  He said, “I’ve been holding it in all day.”  Then the tears came for me.  He started walking back to his dorm, and as we were pulling the car around to leave, we spotted him.  We rolled down our window, honked the horn and shouted “We love you!” waving like the geeked out parents that we are.  So that was a good thing – all of us laughing.  But it was hard.  No matter how much I thought I had mentally prepared myself, it was still like a sucker punch to the gut.


When we got home, it was so strange knowing he wasn’t home, hanging out in the basement.  My husband couldn’t even go down there to turn off the lights.  And really, for the first week or so, if anyone asked me how I was doing, I would start crying.  However, I’ve gotten a lot better now that he’s starting to settle in at school.  It was time.  He was ready and needed to move to this next phase in life.  College is what we’ve worked toward all of these years, and I remind myself that I’m lucky that I get to send him to college.  There have been too many car accidents recently where teens have lost their lives.  Those parents won’t be able to send their sons and daughters to school.  So I keep reminding myself that this is a blessing.

And I really enjoy being able to go down to the basement and not lose my mind about the mess.  I cleaned/shoveled out the crap and we taunted him with a text telling him that his brother was moving in and making himself comfortable.

Clean Room - College Drop off day

It’s a new chapter in his life and in our own.  It’s all good, and it’s what is supposed to be happening at this stage in life.  Do I miss him?  Yes.  And I still can’t believe that I have a son who is in college.  But I wouldn’t want it any other way.





  • Reply
    Marty Oravetz
    September 14, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Oh how I remember this. Beautifully told.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks so much Marty. It seems like going through these things with the oldest kid is always the hardest, as you never quite know what to expect. Not that it will make it any easier with the other two!

  • Reply
    Alisa B
    September 14, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I’m crying as I read this. My son started 10th grade this year, and I know college will be here in the blink of an eye. I hope when the time comes that I will be able to handle the journey as well as you did. Thank you so much for sharing the experience. Many blessings to you and your family.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks so much Alisa. It’s tough, but I kept telling myself that we’ve always adjusted to the “new chapters” of parenthood. I even remembered back to right before he was born and we were leaving for the hospital – how scary it would be to come home as a family of THREE. You learn, you adjust, you adapt. What choice do we have, right?

  • Reply
    Cathy B.
    September 14, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    My son won’t be leaving for a while since he’s living at home while he goes to school but I’m still dealing with the fact that he has facial hair and towers over me and his dad.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      That’s something that is still taking time for me to get used to – both of them are taller than me, but only one son has the facial hair. 😉

  • Reply
    Sara H
    September 14, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Wow!! This could have almost been written by me three years ago. I had the same messy, sometimes slightly obnoxious boy. I had never heard of ” dirtying the nest” before but I remember Senior year being a challenge and wondering where my sweet boy had gone. Yes he came back! With some challenges freshman year and a little less Sophomore year and now in his Junior year he has really turned into the happy confidant (but less self absorbed) boy he used to be. Now he sometimes needs to escape his school responsibilities so he comes home because “he misses the animals”! Those times are fun because he’s happy to be home with us – not like in the past when he was just biding his time until he could go out with friends. He’s close to you- he goes to the University of Cincinnati-we live in Louisville. He was a slob at home and now complains about how messy his roommates are! My daughter will be a Senior next year so I guess I will be going through it again soon and dealing with an empty nest.

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Yes! Really, we didn’t have any “dirtying of the nest” until senior year – with the worst of it being in the second half of senior year. It’s so nice to hear that their true selves still lurk in there, under all of the teenager-ness. I know there will be a lot of change and growth happening with college, and I’m looking forward to seeing him grow even more as a person. I remember figuring out that my parents were actually pretty smart (when I reached my 20’s). 🙂

  • Reply
    [email protected]
    September 14, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Every mile stone in our children’s lives is bittersweet. We so look forward to each, but also know that with each we say goodbye to what was. I remember the day I packed my youngest daughter’s last lunch. I bawled! When I told her older sister that she said, “mom, I think I cried more than you the day you packed my last lunch.” Knowing she would have to do it herself from then on. And, then they come home for their first Christmas break and by the end of it you are shooing them out the door. LOL

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 10:43 pm

      Isn’t it funny how the most unexpected things can send you over the edge? The Dinosaur movie did it for me. Honestly – I haven’t seen that movie on tv in FOREVER!

  • Reply
    September 14, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you so much for telling us your story. I have been going through all the emotions all summer long. My oldest, my daughter is a senior this year. All the flashbacks from all of her milestones have been going through my mind. I have been preparing all of her memorabilia from all of her life events for special gifts that I have planned out that are being made for her. It is really hard for me because I was a teen mom, that went through many tragic experiences. And what I see from my tragedies, is this beautiful young girl, growing up into a beautiful, smart, talented young woman that is about to leave my nest. And there is more of my story however I keep telling myself, “look at what I had scarficied for my daughter so then she could experience a good, blessed and safe life.” Thank you for easing my mind because it felt like I am the only one going through all of these stages. Feeling whole and blessed!

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 10:42 pm

      Thank YOU for sharing with me Tiffany. I think this stage is hard no matter what. Seeing our kiddos leave the nest is such a bittersweet experience, it’s a roller coaster of emotions for sure. Mission accomplished for raising kids who are growing up and moving on to their next phase in life. Hang in there – it sounds like you’re ahead of the game in your preparation! 🙂

  • Reply
    Beth Ann
    September 14, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Nice post, Jenny. I can relate completely. We dropped off our youngest this year… so we are empty-nesters! Best!

    • Reply
      September 14, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Does it get any easier with subsequent children? It seems like the first is always the hardest!

  • Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 9:30 am

    I cried reading this…for you and for my future self. Love the notes you left!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you Leah. Such a huge milestone, relish the time you have! 🙂

  • Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    This such a real and touching account of taking him to college. I teared up a bit. I’d also like to mention that next year it will be 20 years since I graduated from OU and I had that exact dorm furniture! Also, some of my best memories of my parents are from times we spent at OU. We did concerts and parents weekends, and just shared delicious food at Casa Nueva. You’re at the beginning of some great times with him, but yet… I know it’s got to be so weird that he’s not sleeping at home.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      I have lots of friends who went there and I’ve never known anyone to not love OU! Thanks for your sweet comments. 🙂

  • Reply
    September 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I loved this post! Thank you for sharing such an important time with us. I did just what Leah said she did- cried for you and for my future self when I read it. I’m just a few years away from dropping off my oldest and I know it will be tough. Thank you for the sweet note idea, too. I hope your son has a great freshman year and that the adjustment isn’t too tough on you.

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:53 pm

      Thank you so much Sue. So far, he’s really buckling down and taking college life seriously. He’s a smart kid, but needs to be pushed out of his comfort zone sometimes (he’s too much like me in many ways).

  • Reply
    Kelly D
    September 16, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    I just went through the same thing!with my son!(including sending texts of my daughter moving into his garage room!).My son moved in a week early because of band.I was having a hard time!Then the day everyone else moved in, my son found out his roommate was shot and killed in his hometown.The night before he was due to move in.Like you, since then I have just focused on appreciating that I get to see my son through this next step of his life and enjoy this journey with him!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      Oh my goodness Kelly – what a horrible loss. I hope your son is adjusting well and enjoying school. Sadly, this gives perspective, doesn’t it?

  • Reply
    September 16, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing!! Your story was awesome and I’m taking notes on the “Open When”letters. That is too cute! I have a senior… and the only child. It seems that everyone is more concerned of how I am going to cope, since as a single parent he and his travel sports have been my LIFE! I play it tough, but I realize it will not be easy. Thanks again, -Dee

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:51 pm

      I understand the sports thing – that has been us for many years as well. So many “lasts” that are so bittersweet, but excited to see him moving on to this next chapter!

  • Reply
    Amy N
    September 20, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Oh my gosh… loved this! Because I can identify so much! I stumbled on your blog from Thrifty Decor Chick (the gray dresser post, which caught my eye because I have one almost exactly like it.) Then I saw this college post and had to read it because we just sent our oldest off to college too… a son… to OU! Same flag in his room and a cutout of our dog too. I left him a long letter and a photo albums of family and friend photos. And he a little brother who wants to move into his room. All the similarities are crazy. I had all the same feelings and phases and it was SO hard but it is getting easier – mostly because he is doing well so far and loving it. He is a business major, living in Jefferson. Hope your guy is doing well too! I will keep an eye out for you at Mom’s weekend! (Heard it’s crazy!)

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:48 pm

      That is so crazy cool! Our son is a business major as well – so far, really taking things seriously and doing the work, which helps to put my mind at ease! He’s living in Scott Quad – we were talking about how amazing Jefferson is, with their remodel and everything. Such a gorgeous campus, I have a lot of friends who went there, and have never known anyone that didn’t love OU. 🙂 Trying to find a place for Mom’s weekend is craziness!

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