D-day minus four and counting.
I started keeping track at four days because I couldn't bring myself to count before this. I didn't want to. Anything larger than four is a big number; ask any kindergartner.
Four days and counting; we buy a collapsible hamper and launder new sheets. We wonder whether she'll need a mattress pad. Better safe than sorry.
I throw her comforter into the washer and think back to her first day of high school. I dropped her off near the front door and she gave me a quick, "Love you," before making a hasty exit, not really wanting to be seen in public with a parent. She walked away and into the crowd of upperclassmen. The seniors seemed so mature and ready for the world. She is older now than they were then. How did that happen?
D-day minus three and counting. Textbooks arrive in the mail and we print out her schedule from online. Some of her friends have already left; others will go soon. She tries to see them all and fit in time at home; I worry she is attempting too much.
She is no stranger to the word busy. I reflect on memories of piano and voice recitals. Practices, performances, games, meets and races: The last five years have been a whirlwind, with things happening at a speed impossible to savor.
I remember bringing her to camp for the first time. She'd never been gone from home for a whole week before. She didn't know anyone and was tentative. All too soon it was time for parents to say their goodbyes. As I walked away, I wasn't sure if I'd make it to the car or through the week. She ended up having the time of her life.
D-day minus two and counting. She begins packing her things and the laundry pile grows again. How many pairs of shoes should she bring? Did I get her shampoo and conditioner? How big are the closets? We calibrate the laptop with her new email address.
We followed the bus on her first day of kindergarten. We parked and ran so we could take her picture as she entered school for the first time. She seemed so tiny, in amongst the big third and fourth graders. She smiled and waved before walking away and into the school. Her backpack hung down almost to her knees.
D-day minus one and counting. We buy string cheese, peanut butter, instant oatmeal and Ramen noodles so she can grab something quick if she's running late to class. We check out the campus map to find parking and the dorm. It's a big place and she's still my little girl. I worry I won't be able to turn and walk away when it comes time for parents to leave tomorrow.
She took her first steps 18 years ago; in some respects, she's been walking away ever since. We reveled in her accomplishments at nine months and we revel in them now even though they may take her further from us.
Dorm move-in day (D-day). We carry boxes, a microwave and her guitar up the stairs. The dorms are like I remember mine were: square, generic and utilitarian. This is where she will live, or at least the place she'll hang out during the week before bringing her laundry home on weekends.
We put clothes on hangers, make up her bed and move furniture from one side of the room to the other. We look for more to do because we aren't ready to walk away just yet.
When we carried her home from the hospital, she felt new and awkward in our arms. We weren't sure we could do it raise this baby of ours. We were inexperienced, inept and in love with our little girl.
Now, as I stand in the doorway of her dorm room, trying not to cry, knowing it's almost time to leave, I remember how unready I felt for the changes that lay ahead 18 years ago, and realize not much has changed since then.
Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" at booklocker.com. She also offers writing and design services at marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com . Become a Slices of Life fan on Facebook. Email Jill: firstname.lastname@example.org.