Wherever I happened to be last week - Stop & Shop, Milne Library, a social gathering at a friend's home - I met people who were finding it difficult to cope with a child going away to college.
The "My baby is gone" malady, of course, is more likely to strike parents of freshmen.
One mother added to her misery by projecting into the future.
"I have to go through this again next year with my daughter," she said.
I was sympathetic, said some encouraging words and then went on my way.
I could not so quickly leave the side of a friend whose only son's high school graduation I had attended. "I've got to talk to you," she said, bringing her car to a halt upon seeing me walking by, "I've been crying myself to sleep the last two nights."
Aware that my friend had driven her son to a college far from home, I did not have to ask why she was tearful. I searched for comforting words, but decided it would be unfair to mislead her by saying what a well-meaning relative had said to me when my first- born left our home in New York to go to college in some place called Williamstown.
"Before you know it, he'll be graduating and coming home to stay," the relative had said.
I waited and waited for my son, but he had other ideas. After graduating from Williams, he continued his education at Princeton University and the University of Michigan.
I missed him, but I never would have stood in his way. I realize that one of the best things parents can do for their children is give them roots and wings.
When I see Williams students on campus, my thoughts go back to the days my son walked on those paths, book bag slung over shoulders.
Not long after the students return in September, the wooded mountains become a collage of colors - leaves turning as red as a robin's breast and as orange as a pumpkin. It is a spectacular sight, but I find myself laughing when memories of a particular fall season surface.
The fall that my son was a freshman at Williams, I collected leaves from the tree that grew in front of our house in New York, carefully wrapped them, and mailed them to my son. Lord love him, he never said, "Mom, are you kidding!"
Whenever I stop to chat with students on Spring Street or on campus, they are pleasant and seem appreciative of the attention.
One year a student who appeared to be no more than 16 years old looked lost - not literally, but you know, just kind of alone in a crowd. When I spoke to him, it turned out he was on his way to meet his new college friends. "I'm supposed to meet them at Tunnel City," he said. I pointed him in the right direction and then we went our separate ways. But first I found out he was 17.
I guess I can't mother the whole freshman class, nor would they want me to.
My own grandson, age 19, went away to college as a sophomore this September; he had commuted to a college near home in his freshman year. The day after his parents used two cars to transport him and his paraphernalia to his new school, he called me from his room: "Grandma, it's exciting but kind of sad."
Then he mentioned that his father almost broke down when they said their goodbyes.
"How about your mom?" I asked, knowing his mother - my daughter - is a real softie where her children are concerned. I guess that old bromide applies here: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
"Oh, mom's still here," my grandson said. "She decided to have dinner with me. She's going home tomorrow" I thought, "If she could, she would stay and cook dinner for him every night."
I wish I could put a band-aid on my daughter's boo-boo and tell her it will soon be "all better" as I did when she was a child. But, now that she is a grown-up it is best that I not even let on that I know how she is feeling, as that would only make her more upset. All I can do is "be there" if she needs me.
At my dear Bill's funeral, I just about carried my daughter out of the church as she buried her head in my shoulder, sobbing. She could not hide her sadness from me then. As deep as my sorrow was at the loss of my husband of 35 years, I was not just a grieving widow, I was a mother whose child needed her.
But I digress.
This is a time of beginnings, a time of growth, a time of discovery - students going off to school to become the men and women they are meant to be, and parents learning that their children can survive without mommy and daddy hovering over them.
Bless them all!