It didn't hit me until I saw my dog. Now if you've never seen my dog Nigel, there is no way you could possibly know that he is the fattest, laziest Labrador ever. But that day, just one week before departure, he heard the bell ring and ran to the door to greet my elder daughter, Teesta.
Ran? I was startled. Nigel never runs. Had he guessed that a week from now she would be leaving home for college? Had he seen the half-packed suitcases, the endless must-do list being slowly ticked off, the winter clothes coming back from the dry cleaners, folded neatly in plastic, the little gifts for 'you never know when you'll need them', the emergency medicine supply, the extra pair of reading glasses? Had he realised, slothful but smart fellow, she was going?
Why is it that no one, not one person, ever prepares you for that inevitable day when you look up from your newspaper or from posting your newest tweet to realise that your little girl is in fact a bona fide young woman? Gone is that child who wanted to crawl into your bed because she had had a 'very bad' dream. Gone is the three-year-old clutching her shiny red lunchbox on her first day at playschool. Gone is the girl who you read to at night and who laughed on cue, every day, when you responded: 'I love you three', to her 'I love you too'. That girl is gone and, good lord, is this young woman who's taken her place actually leaving home?
No one ever prepares you either for the questions that flood your head. Surely she can't cope. Surely she'll need your superior wisdom and experience. I warn her, again, of parties and drugs, of choosing friends wisely, of using time well, of dealing with academic pressure, of having fun too (as if she needs my advice on that), of being her own person. Of course, she nods politely, but I can sense a rising impatience. She's saying in her head exactly what I said to my mother so many years ago: for God's sake, I can manage. I'll be fine. But I can't help myself; it's as if some DNA motherhood code is kicking in. And so, I add: you'll call, won't you?
Older parents tell me knowingly: "They'll be back. They never leave." Others say, embrace this time; you're free, travel, sleep-in. But I'm in denial, with my younger daughter still home, my nest is half empty, or half full. In any case, I tell them, I'm not one of those moms whose lives revolve around their homes and kids. I have things to do, like write the book I am not writing. And so I console myself.
The irony doesn't escape me. The whole deal about parenting is to raise children to be responsible and independent. Now that my girl is, I'm thinking: she can't hack it without me. But of course she can and that's why I'm proud of her. Somewhere in my head I know my job is done - kind of -and I'm fighting to
remain relevant to this child I have nurtured. Now, I must recognise my time is done. Her's begins. This is a rite of passage equal to every other, birth and death and marriage. My daughter is leaving home, when she returns, she will be her own person.
Will she make mistakes? Absolutely. Will she get hurt? Very probably. Will she pick herself up when she falls? I cross my fingers and hope.
With one week to go, I watch quietly as friends and phone calls steal the time I believe belongs to me. She feels it too. She knows she's on the edge of something unchartered. This clinging to old friends is a sign that she knows that when she returns the familiar will be strange.
My mother doubly wise to me at this moment says this: every house that was once too crowded will one day have too much space. In a week, I will pass my daughter's empty room waiting for that space to fill again.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.