Anne Michaud's husband and daughters unpacking after they arrived to...

Anne Michaud's husband and daughters unpacking after they arrived to drop her off at college. Credit: Anne Michaud

Cruising along Interstate 80 to Ohio, my teenage daughters were swiping through a required course in the backseat. The college my oldest was about enter as a freshman mandated two online classes -- about drinking and sexual consent -- before she could enroll.

One key lesson: If someone is acting menacing, tell them they're sending out a "rapey vibe." Her kid sister seized the opportunity for a laugh: "If someone told me I was giving out a rapey vibe, I would shut that down."

We guffawed at the idea of our 16-year-old acting "rapey" and immediately added the phrase to our run of standing jokes for the trip. We cracked each other up to lighten the leaden feelings of the toughest duty we've undertaken as parents: sending our girl away to school.

The trip west came at the end of what I think of as a Silly Putty summer. We were moving in such slow-motion that it felt as if we were swimming in that stuff. I made lists of what my high school graduate needed for college and texted them to her. Schedule a road test for your driver's license. Get your phone repaired. Go through the piles of clothes and choose some to pack.

I'd be exaggerating to say that none of this got done -- but that's pretty close. This is the way she chose a bed comforter: I visited stores by myself and took photos of some potentially boho-chic designs. Thirty or so photos later, she said yes to one, and I bought it. Preparing for college perhaps would have made the impending separation too real for her.

While I distracted myself with practicalities, she went on an extended leave-taking tour of our town. Movie night sleepovers with friends, late dinners in our kitchen after her boyfriend got off from work, graduation parties scheduled well into August. On her last weekend, she asked whether my husband and I would have dinner with her boyfriend's parents -- and we freaked out that the kids were going to say they had decided to get engaged rather than leave for separate colleges many hours apart.

Over roasted artichokes and tagliatelle, the young couple mocked our fears. "Mom, what did you wear when you told Dad's parents you were getting married?" my daughter joked. My back and shoulders stiffened like curing concrete.

We had made a loving home, and now I was trying to ensure she would leave it.

I have a favorite memory of her at 2. Our church held a fair with kiddie rides. My daughter boarded a miniature train-roller coaster that undulated gently as it circled the track. She sat straight-backed and stoic, with no expression on her face. "What's happening?" I wondered, as I nestled her baby sister on my hip. "Is she OK? I should never have let her ride alone!"

But then the ride ended. She stepped off, still unsmiling, and said, "Again!" My brave girl.

We teach them to dare the deep end of the pool, to walk to the edge of the diving board and jump. How mortifying would it be if they walked back down the steps, too afraid to risk the plunge?

We taught her to say, "I don't like that!" when a smitten boy followed her around at day care. We strategized about the mean girls in sixth grade. I fed her stories about girls doing great things: "The Paper Bag Princess," American Girl Addy, the Jacky Faber pirate series and Disney's "Mulan." All brave girls.

But when the morning came to pack for college, I was suddenly the one with Silly Putty in my veins. I kept stopping and staring into space. I willed myself to keep moving.

For a moment before the drop-off at her dorm, my daughter and I sat together at an outdoor plastic table, seeking shade and a cold drink. I rubbed her back, and just for a moment, allowed myself to recall the feeling of sharing one body. I didn't tell her about that, though. Instead, I said, "Have an adventure."

We are two brave girls.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.

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