This column originally ran on Aug. 29, 2001

What’s physically, emotionally and financially draining this time of year? Why bringing your kid to college. This is a rite of passage for many families. But until you actually leave your kid at the campus, you don’t know what a life-wrenching experience it can be.

Though she took a year off from studies after high school, our daughter Kelly was determined to go to college. Kelly visited exactly one school, Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and figured she was going to give the place a try.

So, this past weekend we brought Kelly and all her worldly possessions to Michigan. She didn’t know a soul at her new school. But the place seemed welcoming. I figured we’d drop her off at the dorm and enjoy a relaxing evening. I had no idea of the ordeal that lay ahead.

The dorm room was a typical cinder block cell. It had this modular furniture and we quickly learned Kelly wanted to stack it high as possible to create the maximum floor space. I guess she didn’t mind lying in a bed, where her nose brushed the ceiling.

After we got the furniture as compacted as possible, all we had to do was empty the van of little things-like a refrigerator.

By the end of the day, not only was the van empty, but our hearts had a new empty place. I guess it’s some cruel twist that when you most appreciate and get to like your children, they move out. You’re happy they’re on to better things but they leave a big space behind.

We’re not alone in feeling that way. A radio host talked about how he watched sobbing mothers being led away from a dorm building by their husbands. You would think they were killing the kids inside, he said, rather than educating them.

At least we had the next day to spend with Kelly, “spend” being the operative word. It was a treat to clear out a Target store and a challenge to fit the contents into her tiny room. And it was gratifying to stroll a college campus with our daughter, having never strolled one ourselves, when we were her age. It also warmed our hearts to see her walking with new people she had just met. Young people banding together to face a fresh adventure. Still, the emotional letdown for us, well it can only be compared to walking back from the kindergarten classroom that first day of school.

My wife stayed brave to the end, though. She didn’t cry at all until it was time to say good-bye. During the trip home, we talked about what a great kid Kelly is. And, since it was also the first time we’d left the other three home alone, we wondered what we’d find when we reached Forest Park.

When we pulled up, we were shocked to see the grass cut. When we walked inside, we were shocked to see the house clean. More shocking still, we were able to see the floors of their rooms. I thought I’d never see that carpeting again. If these kids keep it up, they’re going to make it very tough for us when it’s their turn to start college.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.