Have you ever moved along in life, knowing full well a big change is coming? You make a few adjustments preparing for the inevitable. Yet no matter how much planning you do, nothing quite prepares you for the moment you truly take the exit ramp to your new way of life?

One year ago, we were in the middle of college applications and decisions. My daughter applied to six colleges, and ultimately was accepted at five, which is what we anticipated because the sixth was a stretch school for her.

Happy with the final five, we had two on our list that we hadn’t toured. So on Presidents day weekend, we trekked out to Oregon to visit the final two.

If you’ve ever toured colleges with a child before, you know that the instant you start walking around on a campus, it either feels right or it doesn’t. We had that “right” feeling with Lewis and Clark, so when it came time for the final decision, it was an easy one.

Then the planning came. Forms to fill out. Decisions to be made. Stuff to buy. And before we knew it, August was here and it was time to move her in to her dorm room, 1200 miles from home.

When you’re going through the college process with your junior and senior high school student, you take it all in with mixed emotions. You’re excited for her; you’re happy for her; you can’t wait for her to make the best choice possible. And when the decisions are made, you’re equally excited. After 18 years under your care, you have a child that has done extremely well and is now ready to continue on with the next phase of her life.

Side Note: You know that Subaru car commercial where the dad is looking through the window of the car, telling his daughter to buckle up, text when she gets where she’s going, but not while driving. He goes on and on, talking to a 5 year old girl. Then at the end, he watches his 16 year old drive away? That’s what its like. You take the college tours, you fill out the applications, you do everything knowing at some point, the end is near.

You know it’s going to be hard. They write books about it – I’ve read a bunch of them. But nothing truly prepares you for that moment you hug her for the last time and drive away. In our case to the airport and 1200 miles away.

The texts start. “I ate dinner alone.”

Then the Friday text states “I’m the only one left in my dorm.”

Or the truly painful ones “I have no friends.”

But then something changes. The texts come in “We’re going out for pancakes this morning.” And “I need money to do _____”

YES! She’s doing it! She’s making it!

Wait a minute. She’s doing it. She’s making it. And I wasn’t there to hold her hand.

And so the roller coaster ride of emotions set in.

Taking The Exit Ramp: What I Learned From 3 ½ Months Without My Daughter

That’s Her; But What About Me?

Then one day you realize that all of your energy was put into making sure she got into the right spot and was approaching her life in a positive way. Then its time to look at your own life and you begin to think “now what”?

Yes, I own my own business, so I have a variety of things on my plate and in my to-do box that will keep me going for a long, long time.

But when you don’t have to be up at a certain time to have breakfast before she leaves for school, or have dinner on at a certain time to make sure you make after school activities, things change. You begin looking at life as the two of you, not the three of you. Big difference.

We’ve been a couple rather than a family of three for four months now. She’s been home for the holidays, but is about to head back for her second semester. And with that, we’ve had a chance to ask ourselves what we want as we move forward, and to discover what we’ve learned and will be applying in 2014.

It’s okay to move forward

One of the things I read over and over again before we moved her into her college life is to not make changes to her room. It’s still her home base, and she needs to know she will always have a place to come home to. Yes, I agree. But we also have realized that will always be true, no matter where we live. Once a parent, always a parent. Whether we have a large home right here in Denver, or a condo in a different country, she will always have a spot to come “home” to. So its time for us to do what is right for us, and be in a place that makes us happy.

Its time to rethink my day

For so many years, my work days we’re primarily based around my daughter’s school days. 7 to 3 Monday through Friday worked well as my core hours. But I’ve started realizing it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way any more. I’ve been exploring classes and other ideas, and I’ve started to ask myself why I can’t take a fun class at noon on a Wednesday. What’s stopping me? Absolutely nothing. Its been eye opening giving myself permission to actually play during the week, and possibly change some of my work time to nights or weekends.

Its time to refocus my interests

When your kids are in school, you tend to run from activity to activity. Nights are for helping with homework or attending class activities. I’ve lost that environment now, which means I have a lot more freedom to explore other options. And what I’ve discovered is I need to find likeminded people in completely different areas of interest. Book clubs, activities, wine clubs, women’s groups. What should I do with my time now? It’s been a refreshing journey to discover what I want to do in the future.

Its time to find my own identity

Have you ever entered a room and had people introduce you as “your child’s name’s mom”? Yes, I had that happen again last week as we went to a party for one of my daughter’s friends. That will never go away completely, but it doesn’t happen with near the frequency as it once did. Which means its now time to move into my own identity and discover who I am and how I want to move forward from here.

Its time to build my own story

I have my goals and dreams. I sold off a portion of my business last year to make room in my life for new things. I have growing interests around my writing and hope to make that a bigger part of my life this year.

Ultimately what I’ve discovered in the past few months is its now time for me to do what I want to do, and grow in a direction that satisfies my new interests and desires. I need to create this new phase of “the story of me” all over again.

And that’s a pretty exciting thing to be facing as I move into 2014 with a roar.

Have you ever had a similar experience with a child leaving for college? I’d love to hear your comments below.