My youngest son will graduate from college next weekend. It sounds cliché but I find myself wondering where the time went.

My husband and I talked about traveling to Europe directly after the graduation. After providing a college education for seven children, we planned on celebrating our freedom from tuition payments by spending the equivalent of a semester of tuition on travel for ourselves. Well, plans are great, but then life happens and as it turns out, we are both too busy with work and family obligations, so we’ll defer the trip to another time. (We have committed to taking a shorter amount of time away for ourselves this summer.)

Seeing “my baby” graduate is a big transition for me. It has made me reflect on an earlier, very difficult transition: dropping him off at college in Chicago, four years ago. It was just before labor day weekend and, like the other children in our family, he did not want us to linger around campus. We had an evening flight scheduled that day, but at 10:30 in the morning he instructed us to take the empty moving boxes to the dorm’s trash chute and head on out. I was a bit hurt, but his behavior was exactly like all the others. He was saying, “Thanks for dropping me off but I need to get on with making friends and transitioning to a new chapter in my life.” It was a healthy response.

After dropping him off we headed home for the remainder of that Labor Day weekend. I found myself in tears. So much of my identity had been about being a mother. I was so used to coming home from work to children and all of joys and obligations associated with parenthood. My friends said, “you have a big job and a busy travel schedule, you should be relieved…you have so much more to fill your life…” But regardless of what they said, I was very sad. I could not even walk by my son’s room without shedding tears.

I headed to the dreaded grocery story while feeling sorry for myself.  In the parking lot while I was loading groceries in my car, I ran into an acquaintance.  She too had just dropped her son off at college but she was looking at this transition as an opportunity.  She and her husband were heading to the Bruce Springsteen concert and then to a party at a friend’s house. They were excited to go out to dinner and start seeing movies again. The entire encounter was a “snap out of it” situation for me. On the ride home, I vowed to have a mental model shift in how I was seeing this life transition.

Now, with his graduation from college I am facing another transition, but I have been seeing it as an opportunity. Instead of dreading the change, I will help my son launch the next chapter of his life, just as I launch my next chapter.