09/25/2013 06:28 am ET Updated Nov 25, 2013

The Top 5 Things I Would Have Done Differently (If I Knew How Fast My Son Would Leave For College)

After years of prepping, months of anxiety, and days of packing, we finally drove the 500 miles needed to drop our firstborn off at college. The car ride was long, and surprisingly quiet. Maybe it was my Fannie Flagg audiobook. (Really good!) Or maybe it was the alarm we all felt that one -- in our neat little family of five -- was about to flee the flock.

What they don't tell you when you're struggling with nighttime feedings and terrible 2-year-old meltdowns is just how quickly it all goes. Or, maybe they do tell you, but you're too exhausted to hear. Either way, now that the boy who I once believed would never sleep through the night is officially a college freshman (and a marathon sleeper, I might add), there are a few things I wish I'd done differently:

5) I wish I was less serious. It's not that I regret taking parenting seriously; it's just that I wish I was a less serious parent. I worried. A lot. About everything. From handwriting skills to bedtime routines, I probably should have eased up.

4) I wish I had partied more. Birthday-party planning freaked me out. Literally. What's the theme? Who's got a peanut allergy? How many gifts in a gift bag? Inevitably, I'd shut down, scrap the party, and have a "special" family-only celebration.

3) I wish I had learned to delegate. Because I always thought it was faster to do everything myself, I now have an 18-year-old son who's mystified by the mechanics of laundry, cooking, and cleaning. And I became a bit of a martyr along the way.

2) I wish I had listened more. Family life can be One-Flew-Over-The-Cuckoo's-Nest crazy (a reference which clearly leaves me playing Nurse Ratched), with phones ringing, kids crying, bathrooms flooding, and dinners burning. Despite the chaos, I wish I had developed the ability to rise above the din, and focus in on little reports about the day.

1) I wish I had lived in the now. With long days, busy schedules, and constant deadlines, my mind often raced to the "next." The next meal, the next soccer game, the next whatever on the to-do list. I think I missed a lot of lovely now's, preoccupied by the next's.

Given the time -- and I have exponentially more time, now that I'm one child down -- I could probably come up with a much longer list of things I wish I did differently. But I won't. Moms do what they do to stay ahead of the roar. And as I held my nearly-grown son's hand in mine, before driving the 500 miles home without him, I shared a prayer that I'd said for him the night before. I prayed that he'd gain strength and wisdom from this next phase of his life. And that he'd always know how much he is loved. With surprised tears in his eyes, he said he'll always know that. I'd done a great job showing him. Ah, one wish granted.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

5 Tips For Empty Nesters With Newly Empty Nests