Last weekend, we moved our second child to college for the first time. I realized something as I cleaned my son's room, which still looks like a hurricane blew through, with stray socks, books and papers on the floor. Once a boisterous house filled with three young children, we're now down to one, our 15-year-old, who is tormented by the fact that we'll have time to focus on only her now. She misses her big brother and so do we.
When my daughter left three years ago, we missed her just as much and took time to adjust to a house without her. But she was incredibly independent and spent much time away from home. My husband and I remained consumed with full-time jobs while juggling the many activities of our younger two, including numerous out-of-town tennis tournaments and travel soccer matches. As my son entered high school, our house became the destination of choice for him and his friends, who happily devoured my homemade cookies and brownies while spending long summer nights playing piano or hanging out on our porch.
Now I'm baking a half batch of cookies and the loads of laundry have decreased. I look at the pictures on the walls of my son's room, images that take me back to his early years: there are photos of my son with his Dad, who has always been his close confidante; with neighbors before a birthday party; with his best friends the night of his prom and I can't believe that little boy with the jet black hair and gigantic smile is now a freshman in college.
Last night, my husband and I walked by the park in our neighborhood where we routinely took our children to play to see other moms and dads with their little ones. We can't believe that in three years, we'll have no children at home.
I'm part of the baby boomer generation, which has been accused of obsessing over every one of our child's milestones: How long should we breastfeed to guarantee optimal health? How can we ensure they have strong self-esteem, while not being overly confident? Do we need to hire a tutor so they get into the best colleges? I'm one of the guilty ones, who became thoroughly wrapped up in every birthday party, every friendship spat, every game, every choir concert. And now, I'm glad I did.
Those of you out there who have young children, who are bleary-eyed from sleepless nights tending to a crying baby or find yourselves spending your days shuttling a child from one activity to the next, thinking you will never have time to yourself, to simply read a book of your intellectual level or head out for a quiet evening with your husband at a sophisticated restaurant with no children's menu, cherish these times. Embrace every "first," even the basic milestones. Celebrate the messiness of your life: the smeared frosting on your child's face, the winter boots that leave traces of mud all over the floor, the sibling squabbles, the wet kisses and the words, "I love you, Mommy!" that they say before you tuck them in at night. Because before you know it, those little ones will be heading out the door for good, and you will be looking at your child's unmade bed and empty room, wondering where the time has gone.