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Road trip: Empty nest ahead

Road trips with children are a time to

Road trips with children are a time to share the joys of travel and discovery. Credit: Yoshi Higa, 2000

Road trips are a hallmark of all my child-rearing years -- the answer to my own restlessness and a great teaching opportunity for rules of the road -- how to navigate, who to trust, when to be afraid. But mostly, they were a time to share the joys of travel and discovery.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make delivering my youngest child from Long Island to college in the Midwest a road trip. My son wanted it that way and made it clear he would drive -- the whole way.  He had done it once with his father for an orientation and was eager to show me his driving chops. He has them, and they are quite good. It’s not his fault his mother is a white-knuckle passenger.

The first stop was the Delaware Water Gap and a walk along the lower paths leading to the Appalachian Trail. We’d hiked a length of the famed trail above the Delaware River and where I-80 flows from New Jersey into Pennsylvania a couple of years before as a treat for the end of his summer reading, “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson.

After about two hours of admiring rock formations, spotting trout hiding under rocks in the streams, we pushed on to lunch in at the Edison Hotel in Sunbury, Pa., my husband’s hometown and a great place for pie. The exit from town included a visit to the graves of his grandparents and uncles. His idea.

Then we hit the gas and headed for Van Buren, Ohio, for another visit to the graves of ancestors and an unplanned side trip to a nearby antiques market. Surprise for mom, the lad liked looking at antiques, especially knives, pistols and military medals dusty with history.

At long last we headed into Michigan for Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. I watched him check in and pile his belongings into a cart, accepted a hug and misted up as he excitedly headed into the dorm. My throat tightened, my eyes got mistier, and then I heard another mother who had just ushered her daughter through the same door say, “Feel the joy!” We looked at each other and burst into giggles. Then got into our cars and departed.

On the long drive home, I had an uncomfortable, nagging feeling that I had forgotten or misplaced something important. I doubled-checked my purse, watch, phone, luggage. Then it hit. This is what missing my son was going to feel like.

We'd love to hear your stories about sending your kids off to college, or if you now have an empty nest. Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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