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In a few short days, my youngest son leaves for college. And each second that ticks away before the  moment we shut the car door and drive 8 hours back home seems weighted with added significance. His last Thursday at home. His last time walking the dogs before it becomes my job for good. His last family game night.

Life was so stuffed with activity and forward motion when my children were young. The only time for reflection was when they collapsed in my arms at storytime. After a hard day’s play, they fought to stay awake all the way to the end. I’d carry them to bed, awake or half-asleep, bridging the exploration of the day to the stillness of the night, helping them find security in their blankets and the companionship of their favorite stuffed animals.

How many times is a child picked up? Multiply that by three, for me. Swinging my children onto my hip was, for years, a motion I performed as frequently and unconsciously as walking. Lifting them into my arms, day after day, year after year.

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But one of those times when I lifted each child was the last time.

The most poignant scene I know in literature is in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, when Emily, after dying in childbirth, returns as a ghost to witness the morning of her 12th birthday. She experiences the pain of watching herself and the people she loved taking for granted the moments of being alive. “We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… Does anybody realize what life is while they’re living it- every, every minute?”

This week, as the chapter closes on my child-rearing years, I’m paying close attention to final things. And although I know I’ll welcome the doors opening ahead of me, tempting me to enter and follow new adventures, for a little while longer I need to grieve the door steadily swinging shut behind me.

 

 

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