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Columnist: Leaving your child at college

Leaving your child off at college, and the emotions that come with it, is like watching a tear-jerker movie on the Hallmark Channel.

Except now you’re in the movie. It’s real, and it’s gut-wrenching.

When you bring your child home from the hospital, you begin an 18-year stretch in which you have him/her there with you. You’re in your family comfort zone and life is good.

I had a taste of a school-related milestone early on. My daughter, our oldest child, was 4.

As I tell the story, our oldest child’s registration day for 4-year kindergarten evolved into a kicking, screaming, crying fit. A crowd of teachers, parents and kindergarteners gathered to watch.

Finally, the teachers were able to get me calmed down.

Just kidding. But it was my first taste of that separation thing.

I didn’t like it.

I had this particular story in mind for weeks, but I found it difficult to sit down and get started. I finally came to the realization that to write this story, I would have to revisit some difficult events in my life.

Certainly not the worst a parent could face, but still difficult.

Don’t get me wrong. We wanted our children to have a great college experience. We wanted their lives on campus to wind up being a wonderful, memorable time. A good balance of academic success and fun.

As a parent, it’s just trying to work through that separation thing. That feeling that puts a knot in your stomach and makes you wonder if you’ll ever have a settled mind again.

It was 1996. This was the year we would leave our oldest child off at college. Our daughter, Collins, would be a freshman at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia.

That family meal, at a Statesboro restaurant, before we pulled out of town without our daughter was torture. That emotional trigger was very close to being pulled.

The digestive system is not at it’s top performance level when you’re nervous and sad.

I had to control and contain what I was feeling. I’m not good at that. Two other girls were eating with us, Collins’ roommate and another girl. A father crying while sitting in a restaurant with his wife, daughter and two other girls is not the fluid event you want.

I was able to pull it off.

We said our goodbyes at the dorm. Collins was ready to organize everything.

We pulled out of Statesboro. I think it’s safe to say we were two dazed parents. When my wife and I returned to our home, our daughter was 230 miles away.

The college experience had begun.

As fate would have it I started a new job selling ads for a Loganville, Georgia, newspaper the next day.

My first sales call was at an insurance company.

I sat down with a nice lady and we began to talk. I did not have to search for the initial small-talk topic. I readily told her about the event from the day before. It actually felt good to share it with someone and not keep it bottled up.

A few minutes into my visit, I learned that the lady in the next cubicle, who was out of sight, heard what I was saying and was sitting at her desk, crying.

Three years later and it was time for our middle child, Rich, to head off to Georgia Southern.

Rita and I would now have two of our three children living 230 miles south of our home.

Let me stop and point out, again, that we wanted our children to have a great college experience. We were happy for them. We were excited for them. It’s just that mind-numbing separation thing. You can’t avoid it. You can’t act like it’s not there.

It’s reality. And I think I’m accurate in saying, for the parents, it’s somewhat debilitating.

The day we left Rich off at college, it was not one bit easier than three years earlier when we left our daughter off.

Rita, our youngest son and I were in Rich’s dorm room with Rich as he waited to meet his roommate. When his roommate came to the door, Rich stood up and gave him a firm handshake.

There, right before our eyes, we watched our oldest son officially enter a new phase of his young life.

A new school, new room, new person, new venture and new zip code.

A milestone.

And that separation thing.

I heard later that the mom of a girl in his high school class slept in her daughter’s bed for a while when she went off to college.

That separation thing.

Our youngest son, Parker, started college locally, then attended Gainesville State in Athens.

Shorter distance, frequent trips home. A good thing.

To parents who have actually lost a child, I can’t begin to imagine your pain. Your pain is on a completely different level.

God bless you.

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Rich Simpson

Contributing columnist

Rich Simpson is a former LaGrange resident and a LaGrange High graduate who worked 42 years in radio. He may be reached at rwsimpson4@gmail.com.