For days I kept wondering if there was something we forgot, some lesson we didn't instill in our oldest daughter, some nugget of wisdom she just had to know and we hadn't passed it on.
As we drove west on the New York State Thruway Thursday morning, the sun rising over the barns and fields that line the highway, with her sleeping while her younger sisters chose their iPads over rest, I wondered what I'd say, what my parting words would be to her.
I had been dreading this day. It's easy to believe it's far off when your child is young, through the fog of infancy when just getting six consecutive hours of sleep is a major achievement or the biggest thing they worry about is how much money the Tooth Fairy will leave under their pillow.
But since her school's annual ceremony to pass students from eighth grade into their high school years in different classrooms but the same building, it felt like there was a giant clock over our house, ticking down the days until she left the day-to-day of our hectic, imperfect-but-jammed-with-love nest.
And now it was here: our VW had boxes and a brand new comforter in the cargo area and a dorm room-sized refrigerator strapped to the roof, and we were driving our first-born to college.
On Wednesday night, reality had set in for Jordyn and she cried, admitting to being scared. Once we rustled her out of bed at 3 a.m. to load her final things and begin the ride, she was quiet, and took a moment to cuddle with our dog Coco before climbing into the car.
Then she got out because she felt like she was forgetting something, and it amounted to a couple of small items. Believe me, she left plenty behind.
Remember those Peace Corps commercials from the '80s, the one that termed it "the toughest job you'll ever love?" That's long how I've thought of parenting. From the night almost 19 years ago that a doctor placed Jordyn on my chest and changed our lives forever, it's been the hardest, most important job I've had.
Which of course means I've questioned repeatedly whether I'm doing it well, especially once I began covering the New England Patriots for the Providence Journal in 2006 and our family's life now included road trips for me — thankfully nearly all of them brief — and missing her Sunday flag football games or school performances because I was working.
I'm not sure I've ever met a working parent, especially a working mother, who doesn't ask themselves the same question.
Fortunately for me and especially for Jordyn she had my husband Marcus. He was working at a small independent elementary school north of Boston when she was old enough to start pre-K and that's where she began her education. For 14 years (when he switched jobs several years ago she was able to follow him to his new school) they drove to and from school together nearly every day, for him to impart wisdom or help her sort through an issue with a friend and teach her about the greatness of Luther Vandross, late-90s and early 2000s hip-hop and R&B, and the enduring bop that is DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's "Brand New Funk."
That's what he will miss most. School starts next week and for the first time in a very long time, he'll make the drive to work without her in the passenger's seat.
I think what I'll miss most are the Target runs she would join me on in recent years, after we put her little sisters to bed. She was usually silly and singing and despite all of my protestations would get me to pay for whatever she dropped in the shopping cart.
All of those things were running through my mind on Thursday morning on the Mass Pike and then the Thruway, every mile getting us closer to the moment we'd have to drop her off and drive back home without her.
The moment we pulled onto her new campus our Spotify playlist began playing Luther's "Never Too Much." It's kind of our family song; Marcus's mother played it again and again as he was growing up, and all of our kids have every word memorized now.
"There's not a minute, hour, day or night that I don't love you ... You're at the top of my list 'cause I'm always thinkin' of you ..."
That was the first time the tears came, and one of the women helping families with the move-in process looked at me with a knowing smile. She'd just brought her two children to college.
We unpacked the car and with the aid of members of the men's soccer team carried the boxes and comforter and refrigerator to her new room. Then we found the nearest Target because of course there were still more things to get and we had her favorite, sushi, for lunch and all the while I was trying to burn every moment in my brain.
And then it was time to go. Outside the building that houses the school bookstore she hugged her father and her little sisters and then me, and I cried again and held her face told her everything she needs is already within her, that she is brilliant and amazing and at college by herself but never alone.
It's not the end of our relationship with her by any stretch, and she'll be home in less than two months for fall break. But every new season brings change, and it's time for our family to experience this one.