By Annie Finnigan; Photography by Brooks Freehill
Elizabeth Wrenn, her husband, Stuart Grogan, both 50, and daughter Ella, 18, have always been a tight threesome. Even when Ella became an independent-minded teen, she still hung out with her mom and dad -- cooking, reading, or hiking near their home in Boulder, Colorado. So when Ella chose a college 1,300 miles away, Elizabeth knew it would be an adjustment. "I spent hours with Ella every day," says Elizabeth, a writer who works from home. "I knew the house would feel empty."
In preparation for Ella's departure, Elizabeth began putting more energy into her work. She published her first novel, Around the Next Corner (Penguin), while Ella was immersed in college applications; it was no coincidence that the heroine was struggling to separate from her almost-grown kids. But Elizabeth still had to find out what was around her next corner.
Ella was accepted to a small school in Washington State known for its academic reputation, and her parents were thrilled. But the summer before she left, Elizabeth became increasingly nostalgic. "I found myself looking at Ella's baby pictures."
She thought of a memory from years before, when she'd taught Ella to ride a bike, running beside her with a steadying hand on the seat -- a hand she couldn't bring herself to remove. One day Ella gained momentum, moving so fast Elizabeth had trouble keeping up. "I had to let go. I shouted, 'Pedal!' and she was off."
To handle this second "letting go" with more grace, the family planned a mini vacation in a seaside town close to Ella's college. The three days passed in a pleasant rush, and move-in day arrived. After countless trips to Target and the chaos of setting up a dorm room, they went to the edge of campus, hugged and watched Ella walk away. "She wanted to be the one leaving for a new adventure, not the one being left behind."