The countdown is getting serious now.

I have spent much of the past couple months thinking, talking and counting the days until my daughter, Claire, heads to college.

Suddenly, it's real.

As if all the shopping, the campus tour and the endless online registration forms weren't enough to make it real for me, the calendar does the trick.

While my son, Alek, returns to high school this week, Claire has another week of sleeping in.

But the biggest adjustment will happen to me I mean Claire. Independence is not what most young people dream it to be.

Sure, no one is home watching the clock to make sure you make curfew.

No one tells you to do the dishes.

No one tells you to do your homework, no one to cook for you, no one to clean up after you and no one to make sure you do your homework.

That is what makes college so great and so important.

While students go there to get a degree so they can get a job, the residual effect, and arguably just as important of a lesson to be learned, is how to get along on your own.

I know when I went away to college I was used to relying on the comforts of home and everything that entails.

I didn't know how to do laundry, could cook just the basics and was used to a pretty cushy life living at home.

I learned quickly.

Since I went to college and stayed unlike some who went home most every weekend I got a crash course in how to use a washer and dryer.

After my first week, I was getting acquainted with the coin-operated washer and dryer in my dorm and learned how to survive on weekends by fixing a meal or two or ordering pizza.

I remember coming home and my mom realized I had actually grown up a bit and was learning some independence.

The same metamorphosis likely will take place with Claire. I'm sure she knows more than she lets on about taking care of herself. But why do what others can do for you?

That won't be the case after next week.

If Claire needs something washed, she'll have to do it.

If she needs something to eat, she'll have to make it or buy it.

If she needs help with homework, she'll have to find a tutor.

As much as I am dreading and looking forward to her next big step in life, I also am looking forward to seeing her mature over the years.

One of these days, I'll probably try and remind her to do something, and she already will have taken care of it better than I could have.

Parents always think about the milestones their children take when they are little: learning to walk, talk and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

But the milestone Claire is about to reach is even bigger.

She may have been walking and talking and making her own sandwiches for some time, but that doesn't mean there isn't more to learn and more to accomplish.

The lessons Claire will learn over her college career will help shape her for the rest of her life, and I looking forward to seeing it happen.

Patrick Murphy, of Columbus, Neb., is the former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.