As days grow shorter and summer comes to a close, members of the Class of 2005 are packing their bags and saying goodbye to friends, families and hometowns. As they get ready for college, they also are preparing for a major rite of passage in their lives.
But as life-changing as the college experience is for teenagers, it also is profound for parents.
After sending a third child off to college, one set of parents told Gayle Dudley, career and college counselor at Steamboat Springs High School, that they felt unemployed.
"Kids don't think it's hard at all for their parents," Dudley said. But for many parents, saying goodbye is very tough.
"I'm going to be an absolute, complete mess -- we already know that," said Sally Claassen, whose daughter, Katie Darlington, will attend the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash. "They may have to ship me home."
Claassen and her husband, Mark Darlington, leave next week to drive Katie to school. After a few days of helping her set up her dorm room, they will experience their first taste of saying goodbye to a child beginning college.
Katie said the summer has been bittersweet. She's trying to fill it with as many experiences and goodbyes as possible.
"You want to make every night important, and you feel bad going home at, like, 10 o'clock if you don't have to work," Katie said.
For Claassen, the summer has been an emotional ride. She even broke down recently in the middle of the night, thinking of all the things her family hasn't done but wanted to before Katie left for school.
Mark, she said, is quieter about the upcoming change but has agreed to take a class to learn how to use e-mail so he can keep in touch with Katie.
Without a doubt, Claassen -- who loved her own college experience -- is excited for her daughter and the experiences ahead of her. But Claassen also is aware that it represents something of a new era in her own life.
"It marks your own passages, too," Claassen said. "You realize, 'Whoa, that part of life went really fast.'"
To help parents through the college transition, Steamboat Springs High School sponsored a seminar last spring organized by parents who already had been through the process of taking their teens to college.
There are all sorts of tips for dealing with the process -- written online and in books such as "Letting Go; A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years."
In that book, authors Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger write: "As our sons and daughters enter these college years ... we realize that we, too, are at a watershed, entering into a new phase of our life -- growing older. We may find ourselves taking a new look at our marriages or careers -- our own limitations.
"And so as they struggle with a turmoil of conflicting emotions about leaving, we often are flooded with conflicting feelings of our own being left."
Some parents find that after their children are out of the house, they have to re-establish and redefine their relationship with each other because their children are no longer the focus, Dudley said.
For many parents, it is smart to plan to stay busy during the first few days their children are gone. Others turn to Web cameras on a college's Web site, hoping to get a glimpse of what the weather is like where their child is or a view of what he or she is seeing.
For many families, the summer before college is a time for "lasts" -- a visit to grandma, a weekend trip, a nice dinner.
Charlie and Barb Parnell's oldest daughter, Kelli, is going to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
"I'll really miss Kelli, because she's kind of like the energy in our family," Barb said. "But we're excited."
They are looking forward to watching their daughter grow with every semester that passes.
They already have prepared, in
a sense, for her absence by selling their five-bedroom house with plans of finding something smaller. Without Kelli, there won't be sleepovers and 10 friends in the house during most weekends.
"We really feel like we're being downsized," Barb said.
This summer, Barb has made Kelli's favorite meals -- chicken and broccoli pasta and peach pie -- when Kelli is home, and the family has plans for a Steamboat day during which they'll do Kelli's favorite things in town before she leaves.
"We send her off fully em----braced and with lots of love," Charlie said. "She's always going to have a home to come home to regardless of what happens in the future -- and she knows that.
"It's hard seeing them go. There's no question about that. But it needs to happen. It's part of the life process."
Charlie and Nick Parnell, who is Kelli's younger brother, will drive Kelli and Barb to the airport Friday.
"I can cry and just get choked up thinking about it," Charlie said. "You give them wings and you give them roots, and the roots part is just about over."
No families have the same experience with college.
Some teens leave for school and are home a week later for a Labor Day visit. Others, such as Dudley's middle son, get dropped off with several bags and wave goodbye.
And still others don't call home for weeks.
Mary Weiss, whose son Danny Weiss is going to Arizona State University, said the family is used to the process because Danny is the third of her four children.
"We're so excited to see our kids go out in the world," Mary said. She can't wait, she said, to see what kinds of things Danny will do.
"And you can't wait to hear the stories that they tell you," she said.
"The fun thing that we know is that they will always come back, because we live in a fun place." And, she added, they will bring friends for many of those visits.
Lisa Ruff, whose son Chris is going to the University of Denver this fall, said she doesn't have a sense of loss that he's leaving. Instead, she has a sense that he's taking the next step on his own.
"We're really excited about his creating his own life and his deciding his own path," Ruff said.
The house will feel empty, she said, which likely will be most noticed by Chris' younger brother.
After parents drop their children off at school, there is more to learn about the college experience -- like how parents should react when their child, who has been living on his or her rules for a few months, comes home for the first time.
But there also is more to look forward to -- such as visiting a child at college and taking him or her out to eat.
Dudley said she always enjoyed visiting her boys at school and treating them to something they couldn't afford for themselves, no matter how small it was.
Sometimes, they simply would say, "If we could go to Safeway and buy real orange juice, that would be great,'" she said.