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My husband and I dropped off our oldest daughter, Keeley, at Temple University in Pennsylvania Aug. 19.

Life without Keeley is both easier and harder than I expected. I have to admit that having one less child at home can be nice. Less laundry, less mess and, surprisingly, less chaos have been a bonus I didn't really anticipate. However, I have missed her — a lot. There have been moments that it would just hit me that she was gone and I wanted nothing more than to drive to Philadelphia and give her a hug.

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Her birthday was at the end of September and we decided that would be the perfect time to bring her home for a visit.

Since her schedule this semester has her free on Fridays, I decided to go up on Thursday after she was done with classes and pick her up. I jumped in my car at about 1 p.m. and I was off.

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I had fairly smooth sailing on the drive there, except for the rainy weather. Traffic wasn't too bad, which is saying a lot since the route to Philly is pretty much straight up I-95 and can be a nightmare. I've done this trip about five times now so I'm starting to know where I'm going, which is a really good thing because I am terrible with directions.

I arrived at Temple at about 3:15 p.m. Parking is pretty tricky in the city but I didn't want to park in a garage when all I was going to do was go up to her room, help gather the inevitable piles of dirty laundry and get back to the car. Wonder of wonders, I found an open spot on the street.

Keeley was waiting for me and I got my first hug in about six weeks. It was wonderful! It was just so nice to see her and talk with her face to face. Technology has made having a child live away from home a lot easier, but it's never going to replace actual contact.

We headed out of the city and decided to hit Christiana Mall, a really nice shopping center on the way home, to do a little birthday shopping for my girl. Traffic was a pretty mess by this time and the rain was pretty bad, so a stop would be nice.

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We drove for a little while and I had Keeley check the GPS to see how close we were to the mall. Somehow, we were farther away than when we started, so I figured we had missed a turnoff or something and we would just continue on and shop somewhere closer to home. In the meantime, Keeley had been craving Chick-fil-A so I had her look up the closest one so we could stop. While trying to locate the eatery, we stumbled across a mall and happily went birthday shopping. When the mall closed, we found our food and I anticipated being home in about an hour and a half.

Imagine my surprise when the GPS said we would be home in three hours. Somehow, in the midst of the traffic and bad weather I had gotten onto I-95 north instead of south when leaving Temple.

After dealing with the initial shock, we decided to look at the positives: no traffic at this time of night (10 p.m.,) we had found a great mall and had gotten Chick-fil-A. Three hours wasn't that bad and we would be able to wake up at home.

We hit the road and about 10 minutes into our drive, the "check engine" light came on in my van. I panicked, wondering who I was going to get to come and get me, three hours away from home, when my car broke down.

I decided to keep going, hoping for the best. We were chugging along for about 45 minutes and all of a sudden we saw nothing but brake lights. Apparently, they were doing construction and traffic was stopped for miles. I was getting depressed, wondering if our whole trip home was going to be nothing but trouble.

Fortunately that was the end of our bad luck. We made it home before 1 a.m. and the car didn't break down, so I was happy. And at the end of it all, it was all worth it because Keeley was home. Well, at least for a little bit.

Jill Murphy writes from Manchester.

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