09/23/2011 12:04 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2011

College Brings New Freedoms -- For Parents

A month after my son left home for his freshman year at college, our dog died.

And when that first weekend arrived -- quietly, with no clipping of claws, no requests for the car or that specific groceries be purchased -- my husband and I sat across our kitchen table from each other, drinking strong coffee and reading Milwaukee's morning newspaper.

"We're supposed to be making wild love in every room of the house," he said.

"Uh huh. What's an eight-letter for quite close? I N T blank blank blank blank blank?"

"Do you realize we can go anywhere and we don't have to be back home at a specific time?" he asked. "There's no dog to let out. No kid to wait up for."

I set down the crossword puzzle. He was right. It was time to party.

"Let's get in the car and just drive," I suggested. And just like that, we were zipping along I-43 north -- heading to the Kohler Design Center to view the latest trends in kitchens and toilets.

Thirty minutes into the hour-long ride I spotted a sign for Port Washington, a small harbor town that hugs Lake Michigan. "Wanna go there instead?" I asked, and my husband steered the car off the highway, down I-32 east.

"This is nuts!" I said. "We're totally out of control."

We didn't do much in Port Washington -- visited an art gallery (where I bought five postcards for $1), bought a large latte and a cran-date bar at Smith Brothers, sat in a park by the harbor where we fed a gull (whom we named Gully) crumbs from the date bar, then finished our fancy coffee while relaxing on a bench facing Bernie's Fine Meats in the three-block stretch of downtown.

"We could spend the night," my husband said, eyeing the Rusty Anchor Saloon and adjacent hotel. "There's no reason to go home now."

"Wanna go home?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, and thirty minutes later we found ourselves back in our noiseless kitchen.

"That was really nice," he said, and it was--in the way that a cool breeze feels nice on a stifling day or an open cage door looks nice to a captive animal.

This day was our official start to a new rhythm, and new roles. Life as we knew it was over, morphing as it always does to another stage, whether we're ready or not.

The following morning we were back at the kitchen table.

"I woke up at 4 o'clock and heard claws clicking on the floor," I said.

"Me too," my husband said.

We left the newspaper on the front porch. Instead, we spent the next hour huddled at the table, flipping the crisp pages in our Rand McNally atlas, studying distances and city names. Maybe it was the strong coffee. Maybe it was the faint whiff of adventure. But we were oddly invigorated. One day soon, I found myself thinking, we're going to make it past the toilet showcase.