During our son’s first year at Vanderbilt, my husband and I traveled to Nashville to visit. I’d been doing pretty well in my new empty nest, or “NestAche” as I called it. As we were pulling into our hotel, we saw him striding down the street. I yelled out of the car window, “Rob!” He looked up, surprised, and laughed.

My world felt suddenly complete again.

That night, we took him and several of his friends to dinner; we had a fantastic time. They were a very nice group of young men, polite and starving. They ate most of my flatbread pizza, after I offered.

Let’s face it. Once you become a mom, it’s like you’re everybody’s mom.

It was Valentine’s Day, so there were some jokes about being “losers,” but I enjoyed getting to know a little about Rob’s friends. All too soon came the inevitable time when they had to leave to attend to their lives. We were tired from traveling, so we said our goodnights.

The other two days showed me that life was changing.

We saw Rob for about five hours in those two days. Some of that was because we had a meeting, but most of that? Our son had his own life, and it didn’t include us.

He wasn’t being selfish or mean, he had simply reached the next stage of his life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, as that might mean he was struggling, like many college students do during their first year.

Some of those kids are the ones that show up in my office. They are having panic attacks or have developed terrible problems with eating, alcohol, or depression.

Perspective is very easy for me to have, believe me.

The five hours we did spend together?  Some of it felt easy, like old times, and we talked about spending time together in the future.

But other things were confusing. There were names of people I didn’t know, humor that somehow didn’t make sense to me, time spent in activity that he couldn’t quite explain, “You had to be there” kinds of experiences. Try as he might to explain, I got it…you did have to be there. And I was not there.

I shouldn’t be there.

I felt like I was standing outside a house where he now lived. I was peering in the window, watching him stride around in his brand new home, not knowing if I had a key or a room there. I felt very welcome to look, but not sure how or when to go in. He was creating a new family…one that I wanted him to have and that I was proud of him for building.

At those moments, I just wanted to go back home or run away. It was a complicated, weird feeling and so different than when he came home to Fayetteville to visit.

So very different.

I love the Miranda Lambert song, “The House That Built Me.”  Its haunting lyrics describe how she goes back to where she learned to play the guitar…in the house that “built her.”  I know that our house, and actually the two of us, will always be a “home” for our son.

 I needed to step back, let him create his own, and trust that we will be invited to the housewarming.

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