I recently took my only child to college and dropped him off five hours away from home. I would like to say that I handled it with class and dignity but then I’d be a liar. Truth is I cried the minute we arrived on campus (the athletic coordinator had the audacity to ask me how I was holding up), during the closing ceremony – which would have made even the hardest of criminals weep like a baby – and almost the whole way home.

If that isn’t bad enough I’ve cried at seemingly insignificant occasions for several days since. For example, when I went to the grocery store the next day and realized I didn’t have to buy milk this time I started crying right there in the milk aisle, with everyone looking at me like I had lost my mind. Strangers were coming up to me asking if there was anything they could do for me.

It’s amazing to me how big the hole in my life seems right now. 18 years of having him around, picking up after him, fixing meals for him, taking him to baseball practices and games, doing laundry at midnight because he forgot he had to have his uniform for the next day – all the things I used to complain about I now realize I loved. Every minute of it.

Now I go home and the house is clean, lights aren’t on all over the house, and there are no dirty dishes stacked up in the sick. I miss it all. If you had asked me five years ago I would have said I can’t wait for my house to be clean again and I wish he could just learn to pick up after himself. What did I know then? Do you think it ever crossed my mind that I’d long for the days when my house was a mess?

We parents tend to get caught up in the daily activities and the needs of our children and forget to stop and appreciate them while we have them. Most of us are just trying to get them through school and life without doing too much damage. My advice is this: Don’t complain – just pick up the sock and put it in the hamper. Take your time. Slow down and appreciate what you have been given because one day you’ll look back and remember that it wasn’t a big deal to pick up a pair of shoes or get out of bed to make a late night sandwich – it was something to be cherished. We complain and even yell at our kids to pick up their room and go to bed, but once they’re gone who is left to yell at?

I know he’ll be home for break before long, making a mess and eating me out of house and home again. I’m looking forward to that more than I ever thought I would. We have both grown so much in these last 18 years and while I’m excited to see what the next stage of life brings for him (and me) I can’t help but be a little sad that the days of him needing me are largely a thing of the past. Don’t get me wrong – him not “needing” me is a good thing because it means that we raised a self-sufficient, strong, independent man, but it also means that my little boy is forever gone.

And that’s okay. I did my job as his mother and now it’s time for both of us to move on and grow our relationship on an adult level. I know we will both flourish in this endeavor and I look forward to the future!

So hang in there all you moms and dads taking your kids off to college for the first time. I know all too well how hard it is but the tears and the missing them will subside and they will be back. In the meantime, work on yourself, rediscover your mate and your hobbies, and start truly living for yourself again. You’ve earned it!