I thought I was prepared for this past holiday season. Presents were purchased, holiday parties calendared, and Christmas Eve and New Year plans all in place. Then my two college-aged children arrived home and I was sent on an unexpected journey.

For approximately one month, the peace and solitude of my mountain home was lit with a different energy. It was a wonderful welcome. Old friends visited, laughter was heard throughout, favorite meals were made, and having everyone in one place was a true blessing. That is until the reality set in that we’d all become used to living independent lives.

For the last six months, I’ve come and gone at my own leisure. I even purchased doggie auto feeders to avoid rushing home for pup meals. (Not the best idea as my alpha dog seems to have packed on some extra pounds… hmmm?) Nonetheless, I was used to a freebird life. If I left the house clean, it remained until I stepped back into it. When I wanted cheese and crackers for dinner, I’d eat cheese and crackers. But they were baaaaacckkkk and I had to put on my mom cap again. And it felt a little tight, to be honest.

“I walked the dogs so often in the past month that now I fear they’ll expect it regularly.”

After the initial honeymoon stage of the holiday break waned, I found myself falling into old roles: “Interested in doing anything today?” “Are you going to wear just shorts and a tank top on this 15-degree winter day?” “Can you bring the trash cans up?” (I mean, isn’t part of having children about giving them the shitty chores?) With the “young ’uns” home, I felt responsible for creating moments and coordinating family-time activities.

“You don’t have to entertain me, you know,” one of my lovelies blurted after I suggested a few things to do together. “I’m perfectly fine just chilling.” And by chilling, they meant laying in bed staring at a phone screen. That old nagging urge to ensure everyone is happy came creeping.

I spent countless years trying to create memorable experiences for my children—from craft extravaganzas to eclectic birthday parties and fantastic Christmases. When, in reality, I’m learning, the lasting memories come in the simplest of form, the everyday moments: making pizzas, snuggling dogs, ping pong matches, watching weird movies, or just welcoming the day over a fantastic breakfast.

When I reminded myself of this truth, I began living life as I had been only a few weeks earlier. It started with a massive grocery shop containing all of their favorites, because everyone knows that junk food placates the ravenous. Then, if a friend invited me for drinks, I went. If I needed space, I “ran errands.” I walked the dogs so often in the past month that now I fear they’ll expect it regularly.

Initially, I felt guilty for doing things while my kids floundered about watching TV, seemingly sulking in beds, bored out of their minds. Then I came to the sad conclusion that they really didn’t want to be hanging with their mom all that much—even as awesome as I am. It’s part of the process of letting the birds fly. Plus, they say the best ideas come during spaces of boredom. Although, I didn’t see many genius plans enacted—just sayin’.

I once believed the most difficult part of becoming an empty-nester was the kids actually leaving. Turns out, the coming back is even more emotionally complicated. We’ve all tasted freedom—which is lovely—but it also created a shift in dynamics. It’s befuddling how they’ve both learned SO much about the world and now I know nothing. Wow! What an education we’re paying for… to learn everything in one semester or even two years of college! I had to refrain from snipping, “Well, it seems like you know it all—might as well get on your way then.”

The many stages of raising children feels endless. There are no “How to Parent Your New Adult” books, plus, with the multitude of variables involved, you just have to keep your head on a swivel and constantly adjust that parenting cap. In the big picture of life, these visits are fleeting days/weeks/months where I get to witness my babies’ first steps into adulthood. Each of us is learning along the way. It’s just really a crime that my college education didn’t teach me everything I needed to know about life like my kids’ schools have. I think I need to write a letter to someone or something.