This fall, like thousands of other parents, I will take my baby to school, just as I have hundreds of other times, but this time will be different. This September, I’ll drop my little girl off at school, but I won’t be picking her up later that afternoon—no, this time she’s off to college, where she will likely remain until Thanksgiving break in November.

Am I proud of her? Yes, without a doubt! But that doesn’t dissolve the lump in my throat or stop the flow of my watery eyes as I think about this next phase of life for us. I still see my 18-year-old daughter, Hannah, as my baby, although realistically, she’s actually considered a “young adult.” And while I’ve been here before—having my child leave home and attend college (with my firstborn son)—somehow it seems harder this time, because Hannah is my youngest child and when she leaves, I’ll officially be an “empty-nester.”

The mixed emotions I feel range from pride and happiness to loss and sorrow. It’s amazing how life’s passages can conjure up so many varied feelings at once. As we shop for her dorm room and pack up the car for our 5-hour road trip to Santa Cruz, I can’t hold back the floodgates of my heart, as I know our lives are moving on, she’s growing up, and in the words of REM, “It’s the end of the world as we know it!”

As we are often told, change is the only constant in life, so rationally I know I’m going to have to adjust and accept the inevitable—but how did this happen so quickly? I remember days gone by, hanging out at the park or having pizza with the kids when they were younger and well-meaning passersby telling us to “enjoy every moment because it goes so fast.” Yet, I still have trouble believing that their childhood is now a memory and that I am a parent of two young adults. Sniff, sniff.

Despite the well-meaning warnings to enjoy every day and the countless years of preparation for getting into college, it still does not seem possible that the day has come to drive my daughter to college, where she will spend most of her days and nights for the next four years. Am I prepared? Probably not, but it does not matter how I feel, this is happening, just as the days turn into night over and over again, there’s no stopping it!

The road to college acceptance was a rough one—Hannah, like many of her friends and classmates, applied to 19 colleges, spending way too many hours (in my opinion) filling out applications and answering questions about her goals, skills and interests. She struggled through stress and deadlines, SAT tests and rigorous AP/IB classes requiring (again too many) hours of homework and effort to arrive at this point. Her hard work paid off in the form of several college acceptances from colleges as far away as Pennsylvania to CLU, in our own backyard. Luckily for me, she chose to remain in state, albeit five hours north, and attend University of California Santa Cruz.

We visited the campus last April for a campus tour, during which we were thrilled to encounter a deer on campus, lending to the beauty of the college, set amongst the redwoods overlooking the Pacific Ocean—not a bad place to spend the next stage of her life. The student body there is diverse and she will meet all sorts of new people and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way. I am so grateful for the experiences she will have and I’m genuinely excited for her new adventures. Still, I find it difficult to picture actually hugging her goodbye before getting in the car and driving home—alone. It will probably be the hardest road trip I’ve embarked on thus far… and I take some solace in knowing thousands of other parents have traveled this way before. We simply must move forward, put the car in gear and drive, trusting that the path of life will lead us to fascinating destinations that are as yet unknown. Each and every turn in the road holds the promise of newfound adventures, but what gets me through the rough patches is knowing that I can always turn the car around and visit if it gets too tough! While we can’t stop progress, we can enjoy the ride!