I collapsed in a sobbing heap on a bench outside his dorm building. Not because I would miss my youngest as he set out into the world. Not because he’d be living 1700 miles away for the next nine months. Not because my nest is officially empty. The visceral reaction I had to dropping my son at college was due to the 19 years of sheer effort and love I put into him.

My son came into this world as he lives it today, like a bolt of lightning. At midnight I felt the contractions, and by 2 am I was holding him in my arms. He was the child that screamed through the night and scoffed in the face of the Ferber method. He woke before the roosters, hungrier than a bear fresh out of hibernation—yet didn’t want what was served. He was the first one to wander off at the mall or music festival and challenged every household expectation and classroom rule.

I shared the heartache and lifted his chin as friendships ebbed and flowed—the consummate cheerleader on the sideline of his life. As his athleticism developed, our family calendar boomed with sporting events, travel teams, banquets. Weekends and weeknights were dictated and consumed by my son’s schedule. It was “all good” because the sports outlet was a distraction from his innate attraction to mischief. Until he entered high school.

“He’s spicy and sweet, like the best Chex Mix blend.”

His teenage years were wrought with every single rebellious or precarious situation he could get himself into, from totaling his first car to sneaking out through the doggie door. The most difficult piece of it all was finding the patience and love to manage such a spirited young man. The second most difficult aspect in raising my son was recognizing how very much his personality mirrored mine and his father’s. The boy who gave us a run for our money is a product of our very beings. Every best and worst quality we possess reveals itself in his actions and decisions/indecisions. It’s a tough nut to chew, yet a beautiful one to savor.

You see, my son also has a smile that shines and a laugh that beckons more laughter. He will help the elderly neighbor and doesn’t hesitate to say “I’m sorry.” He bakes a killer snickerdoodle cookie and will say “I love you” to me in front of his friends. He devours the meals I make with gusto while complimenting every bite. He’s a snuggler. A thinker. A dreamer. He’s spicy and sweet, like the best Chex Mix blend.

So, when I delivered my son to college, it wasn’t just a typical “boo hoo, I’m going to miss you” moment; it felt like I had just run a 1000-mile marathon and that dorm was the finish line. This son of mine, “the trying one,” is now living in Florida, cooking his own meals, calling me for advice, and attending classes. Of course, my job as a parent will never be done. But, in all honesty, it’s a welcome break, and I bet it goes both ways.

Upon opening his bedroom door after returning from dropping him at college, the same musk that emanated from it since he was 12 hit me in the face. I never thought I could miss that smell. As with everything our children do, they still remain with us no matter how far away they are. While I won’t miss finding balled-up sweat socks inside the couch or empty glasses in every room, agonizing late nights of worry, and the endless trips to the grocery store, I realize now, with so much lifted off my parental plate and heart, I have time to focus on myself. And my favorite question that seems to never get old is, “What does Sandy want?”