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Party of three, your table is ready ... even if you're not

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I'd like to publicly apologize to our Red Robin hostess.

She was just doing her job when she smiled to greet us. She didn't know she was the last straw. Shoot, I didn't know she was the last straw!

We were just grabbing dinner after dropping our son off at college, ten days after high school graduation. She had no idea we've been a family of four for 18 years and it was our first time out without our firstborn.

"How many in your party?" she asked.

I stood there stunned, staring at her as my heart jumped into my throat.

"Can't you count? Are you really going to make me say it out loud?" I thought to myself. The dagger glares I shot at her were met with confusion. There was enough awkward silence that I knew she was going to make me say it.

"Three."

Hearing it out loud was a gut punch. I felt the need to clarify, to answer for where our missing family member was. As if it was obvious a part of me was missing. I wanted to ramble on explaining, "Four, but three for right now."

That "Three" was the final step out of an old life and first step into a new one, and I wasn't ready; but boy did I think I was...

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I was not a blubbering mess my son's whole senior year. I didn't pine through baby books remembering old times, nor did I hold his hand and fret over him fending for himself. I reminded myself for an entire year that there are moms who don't get the privilege of sending a kid off to school. We were just proud of him and grateful for his opportunities to live out his college baseball dreams.

We had watched friends before us sending their kids off, and they gave us great advice. The TODAY Parenting Team has been so helpful with preparing us for what to expect as well. We were warned of the empty bedroom that was going to be hard to take, or seeing someone else wear his jersey. So we mentally prepared for that. I felt like I passed a test when I made it through these milestones without losing it.

Early in his senior year, my husband and I even started taking on projects and looking more into our hobbies that we set down years ago, in order to be fully present in our kids lives. All the practices, snacks, high school events and games don't go away slowly. They end all at once. So we had to find things to do to keep ourselves busy. I mean, someone had to eat the gigantic box of granola bars left behind!

We thought we were ready. Heck, we weren't emotional on senior night or graduation. We were just proud. I'm not going to lie, we did get choked up at drop-off for a few minutes. We convinced ourselves to snap out of it because our boy was off living his best life and we had projects in place to keep us distracted!

We had it all figured out until we made the mistake of trying to go out to dinner. I guess what they say is true: It'll hit you when you least expect it, and it doesn't matter how ready you think you are.

So we're a party of three now. There, I said it.

I'm just thankful for Red Robin's bottomless steak fries. Now I've just got to make it past the hostess.

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