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The Terrible Thing That Happened While I Wasn't Looking

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Nobody tells you it's going to be like this.

The early days of the job are exciting. There are so many new things to see and learn that each day seems to last forever. Then somewhere in the middle, a routine sets in. The days are longer, but the years are shorter. Then, suddenly, it's over.

One day you're a young upstart ready to make things happen. Then, before you know it, you're done.

I'm not talking about careers; I'm talking about parenting.

My oldest daughter is leaving for college next week, and I'm wondering how it's possible that 18 years went by in the blink of an eye.

Perhaps you've experienced this yourself.

It's that moment when you realize that the last two decades of your life weren't some temporary quest to get you to a better spot. They were the actual years of your life passing you by, whether you were paying attention to them or not.

Don't get me wrong: I couldn't be more pleased with the way our baby girl turned out. And for the most part, I'm happy with the way we spent our time together.

I just don't want it to be over.

A lot of people complain about their kids, but I don't. Parenting has been the most exciting, interesting adventure of my life. I can honestly say that I've been passionately in love with my two daughters since the day they were born, and there hasn't been a moment I ever wished things were different.

Our oldest first came into my life at a time when I wasn't clear about who I was or my place in the world. Over the course of our 18 years together, she turned me into a better person. She lifted me out of myself. She turned me into a dreamer, and she turned me into a leader.

Now she's going to college 1,200 miles away. Don't get me wrong: I couldn't be more excited for her. She's a parent's dream. She has a huge scholarship to a prestigious university, and I have full confidence that she's fully prepared to step into this new phase.

So why do I feel like someone is ripping out my aorta?

Her sister is five years behind her, and the thought of them both gone makes me feel like someone is putting a vacuum against my heart and sucking out my soul.

My own parents had four kids, with a 12-year difference between the oldest (me) and the youngest (my sister), and I don't recall anybody sobbing when I left home. I guess when you have a houseful of kids for 30 years, you're probably more exhausted than depressed when they leave.

I remember when my dad walked his last child, my sister, down the aisle. As he took her hand and placed it into her waiting husband's, he whooshed it down with the satisfied grin of a man sinking the winning basket in the Final Four.

Later, at the reception, he proclaimed, "All my children are now debt-free, married college graduates!" I've never seen a man dance so enthusiastically.

I may get to the dancing stage at some point. But for now, I'm a bit of mess.

One minute, you're living with one of the most exciting, interesting people you've ever met. The next minute, you're watching them pack up their stuff to leave.

It's awful. It's also totally worth it.