09/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

She's Leaving Home

She left home today.

In actual fact, I still can't believe it. I'm used to being the one who leaves all the time. Today I was left. By my little girl.

Why is that so damn hard?

It's a ritual every parent goes through if they're fortunate enough to have a kid who grows up and makes it through high school to go to college:

You get left. Get over it. Be happy. Be thrilled. Count your blessings.

The end of the summer is always filled with a touch of regret. We try to hold on to those long, hot days and those cool, dreamy nights. We get by wearing the flimsiest of clothes, and watch enviously as the toddlers run around in nothing at all.

It's a season of endings, and beginnings -- so many of them this summer. We watch Ted Kennedy buried by a line-up of presidents. Gone: Les Paul. And Dominick Dunne.

Meanwhile thousands of families are driving their kids to airports and train stations. Pulling up on college campuses in SUVs, unloading crates from Bed, Bath and Beyond. Thrilled and miserable, all at the same time.

Not that teenagehood was any picnic. Not, not easy. (No one warns you properly about this. That adoring pumpkin with dancing black eyes and inky bottle curls will suddenly not want anything to do with you.)

So yesterday I spent three hours making my daughter leave out of her two overstuffed suitcases half the things she didn't need. Seven black skirts? On what planet? I laughed. She cried. It may have been the longest conversation we've had in four years.

And still. It's a moment suffused with memory and loss. Tonight, I keep wondering when she'll be back for dinner. Her room smells of the perfume I told her not to buy. Her beaten-up Jetta -- with no one to drive it -- sits in the driveway.

It's a moment that reminds us that as we grow older, others rise to take our place. If we do our jobs right as parents, that is the way it should be. (And hey, President Obama, I sure hope there'll be a job for her by the time she graduates.)

But the leaving. At the airport, she hugged me tightly -- like she used to when her hands were still tiny, and when it was still ok to call me "Mommy" -- and tears filled her eyes, too.

Of all the many things they don't tell you when you have children, here's a new one I've learned and pass along to young parents everywhere:

They will eventually leave you. If you're lucky.

And you're gonna hate it.