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My Youngest Daughter Just Started Looking At Colleges And I’m A Mess

by Lisa Sugarman
Lisa writes the nationally syndicated column "It Is What It Is" and is the author of Untying Parent Anxiety.

It feels like just a minute ago that my oldest daughter, Riley, was a junior in high school and we were looking at colleges over her spring break. The reality is, she’s going to be a junior in college in the fall and we’re about to spend this year’s spring break looking at schools with Libby, her little sister, who, by the way, is now driving a car, has a job, an ATM card, and is taller than everyone in our family except my husband.

I’m honestly not sure how any of this is possible, because Libby was just in the BabyBjörn, wearing a snappy-crotch onesie not more than three minutes ago, so…

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But that’s the thing about watching our kids grow up — especially our youngest ones — it happens in such a distorted and bizarre way because of how preoccupied we usually are with their older siblings. Certain spans of time feel endless, like super-long foreign films with annoying subtitles that leave you feeling like it’s been years since you saw natural light.

The toddler stage is like that, when our kids need our constant attention and supervision, and time pretty much stops altogether for what seems like forever.

That’s when it feels like we’re going to have dependent, naïve little grammar schoolers in the backseat of our car forever, trashing the floor with half-empty juice boxes and crushed potato chips and endless amounts of mud.

Doctor measuring girl (5-7 years) in examination room
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Those are the years when our kids rely on us for just about everything. They need us for rides and clean clothes and the Wi-Fi code and permission to walk downtown for lunch. And when we’re in the thick of it, we just naturally assume that it’s going to go on forever. And then it doesn’t.

See, the way it goes down is that, without any real warning, we wake up one morning and our kids are meeting with their high school guidance counselors about their senior year course requirements. And everyone’s taking the SAT’s. And they’re all driving. And dating. And doing all kinds of other grown-up-type stuff that we never expected them to do.

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Those are the times when we struggle just to keep up with the daily pace, because life with older kids moves so damn fast.

It’s like as soon as our kids hit high school, everything just accelerates to the point where they’re moving in 80 different directions, doing 80 different things, every day of the week. And they’re dependent on us less and less, which is a freaky feeling, even for those of us who have gone through it already with an older kid.

And then, ironically, they’re not the ones who are lost anymore… we are. Which is a really odd feeling when we’re left alone with that rattling around inside our heads.

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Now, logically, I’m aware that all of this is supposed to happen. I mean, I feel like I’m solid with the basics of growth and development as it applies to human beings. But when we’re in the thick of it with our kids and, then, all of a sudden, our little one isn’t little anymore, we can’t help but get a little wrapped around the axle about when that actually happened. Because it kinds seems like it’s an overnight thing.

Which I guess is kind of how I’ve been feeling lately, watching Libby whiz through her junior year and head full steam into the summer, about to become a senior.

Because this is exactly when things get out of control fast, and you just keep hearing yourself say, “How did we get here already? Weren’t we just at kindergarten screening? You were just using a booster seat, for heaven’s sake.”

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So how do we parents handle it?

Well, to me, it means that two things are happening simultaneously and we have to address them both. Simultaneously.

Number one, it means that the little baby who we were absolutely sure would stay little forever has suddenly grown up, in spite of our best efforts to keep them little. Which we just need to accept. And number two, it means that we’d better get accustomed to the fact that we’re about to be on our own again, so we’re gonna need a hobby. Or twelve.

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But whatever we’re feeling, we just have to take solace in the fact that billions of parents before us have done this (including our own) and they managed just fine. In fact, I’ll bet it didn’t take them all that long to remember that a good set of room-darkening shades are all anyone needs to help us remember what it was like to be able to sleep until noon, before we ever had kids.

Oh, who are we kidding… We’re all screwed.

For more from Lisa Sugarman, visit LisaSugarman.com and Twitter and click here for an exclusive offer to order her book Untying Parent Anxiety.