This year my daughter Caitlin, 21, will be leaving me behind when college starts later this month. So, rather than be a traveling mom, this time I’ll be a left-at-home mom.

And that’s given me pause, because I am surprised at how much I will miss the four-hour ride from our home in the Chicago suburbs to Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill.

I got of taste of “don’t need you, Mom” in May when Cait called to say I didn’t need to pick her up and bring her home for summer break. Why? Well, she and her boyfriend couldn’t sublet their apartment so there was no need to bring home more than summer clothes. Those would fit in John’s car, eliminating the need for me or the van. 

Why will I miss trudging up and down stairs in the heat and humidity that defines late-summer weather in central Illinois?

I missed that trip because it was just the two of us. I would always pick her up on a weekday when her father was working and her sister was in school. I’d head out early in the morning and arrive in Macomb around noon. We’d load her stuff into the van and head home, stopping someplace for a leisurely lunch and chatting on and off the whole ride home about things big and small. How the school year went, summer plans, future dreams. Just the two of us; it was sweet and companionable.

Just as the annual spring trip home became a tradition in a few short years, so too did the annual back-to-school trip, which always included my younger daughter Sara, 16. Just the three of us, a traveling mom and her girls heading southwest to Macomb, talking on and off, listening to music, stopping for lunch, getting Cait settled. As evening fell, we’d head to Aurelio’s – the most popular pizza spot in Macomb – and join other families having a farewell dinner. We’d spend the night, have a last breakfast with Cait and point the van north and then east. On the ride home, Sara and I would have each other to fill the void left by her big sister.

Heck, we even have two CDs Sara made for traveling to and from Macomb appropriately titled “Macomb Songs 1” and “Macomb Songs 2,” both loaded with road trip tunes we enjoy.

But no to-school road trip this year. I found myself wondering why I’m feeling melancholy about it. Why will I miss trudging up and down stairs in the heat and humidity that defines late-summer weather in central Illinois? Why will I miss the stock-up trip to Macomb’s Wal-Mart (the town’s social hub) filled with other college families doing the same thing? Why will saying good-bye be different when done at home instead of in Macomb?

Well, it’s another step down the road of independence for my daughter. Certainly that’s what I want for Cait, but it’s still hard to come to grips with the fact that she’s ready to move on and live her own life independent of her father and me.

I’ll miss the sense of satisfaction that I get from helping get her settled – there’s a feeling of comfort derived from knowing she’s ready to start the year. And I’ll miss the atmosphere of promise and new beginnings that permeates campuses across the country during those first days of school. I remember those feelings of anticipation about the new year and the joy of reconnecting with friends from my college days and relive them, albeit vicariously. 

But most of all I’ll miss Caitlin and that little bit of extra time together the trip to school affords us. This year, though, she’s a senior, so come spring I will be climbing into the van to bring her and all her belongings home.

With that milestone, she’ll be setting course on a new journey – truly finding a life of her own. 

Read daughter Cait’s Back to School side of the story.  

Jennifer Burklow is the mother of two daughters who is about to embark on college search No. 2 with daughter No. 2.