My son is back, and here’s the evidence. (Emily Rogan)

My son is home for his first Thanksgiving break since college started in August.

The floor of his room is once again littered with clothes and his bed is unmade. There are shoes scattered around the basket in the foyer meant to hold, well, shoes. The familiar musky, pungent man/boy smell permeates his room.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m happy. We spent yesterday driving to various appointments and ate brunch alone together at a favorite spot in town. We talked about his friends, his classes and his plans for next summer.

I have precious moments with him while my husband is at work, my daughter at school. I steal glances at him when he’s not looking, his changing body all muscular and broad, his overgrown mop of hair, the beard stubble on his chin. In some ways he’s more man than boy and in others, he’s still an uncertain kid, trying to figure life out. I can’t help but stare at the wonder of him.

But when he’s gone, I don’t miss him nearly the way I thought I would. I’d heard friends talk about their children’s departure the way they talk about death, using words like mourning to describe how they feel. Here, it’s been just fine. The three of us–my husband, daughter and myself– have found a new rhythm on our own.

It’s different, for sure. My daughter asked if we could keep his door closed so she didn’t have to see his empty room, bed neatly made, desk empty, floor clean, when she walked by. The cat has taken to sleeping on his bed every day, as if she’s keeping watch until he returns.

I expected to be sad but I’m not. He doesn’t call regularly. In fact, I suggest he call only when my husband’s moping and mumbling under his breath, “I called home every Sunday night when I was in college,” finally gets to me. My son and I text when he has good news to share: “I got a 94 on my stats exam!” or when he needs my input on something important–which isn’t too often.

And this is exactly as it should be. If he were calling or texting me constantly, then I’d be concerned. He is separating, becoming his own person, problem solving and figuring things out on his own. I don’t know his class schedule or when he goes to the library or when he works out. I don’t know what nights he goes out with friends or when he stays in his room and reads or watches Netflix. It’s not my life; it’s his.

Everything we’ve done in his entire life has been leading up to this moment. And I am satisfied, confident that I did at least one thing right. He was ready to go. He knows we’re here if he needs us, he just doesn’t need us so much right now. And that is fine with me.

For weeks leading up to drop-off, my newsfeed was filled with heart-wrenching accounts of parents saying goodbye to their children heading off to college. Each story had its own version of angst. I got teary reading each one of them, anticipation and anxiety building up in my gut as we shopped for last minute toiletries and clothing, attended late summer graduation parties and counted down the days until we’d drive 500 miles to his school and leave him there.

Drop-off day was quick and painless; we scored a parking spot right in front of both the building where registration took place and our son’s dorm. After a quick visit to the local bank to open his account, a few trips up the two flights to his room, some organizing on my part, just like that—we were done.

“Okay, bye you guys,” he said, “I’m going to lunch with some friends.” A big smile on his face, he hugged us both and walked away as tears streamed down my face.

“That’s it?” I said to my husband. “That’s his goodbye?”

His arm around my shoulder, my husband said, “Let’s get some food before we get back on the road,” and steered me in the direction of the restaurant.

I drove the first five hours home so I’d be distracted. Tears came intermittently, partly because my husband played music that reminded me of when our son was a baby: Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, The Greatest Discovery by Elton John.

But at our first rest stop there was a text: Thanks for everything you guys. Have a safe trip home. I love you.

It is exactly as it should be.

Emily Rogan is a freelance writer. You can read her work at EmilyRogan.com.

Like On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and advice.

You might also be interested in:

How helicopter parents are ruining college kids

When a college freshman wants out

Empty nest syndrome: It’s for dads too

When your college kid returns home