09/02/2012 09:21 am ET Updated Nov 02, 2012


Blissful, unscheduled summer is ending and all too soon, autumn will be upon us. While I do have wonderful memories of Fall in New England (truly, I believe Massachusetts is the best place to appreciate the natural, spectacular change in seasons), what I mostly recall -- frantically preparing for back to school with three kids -- is the schpilkes (Yiddish for nervous energy).

Yes, the autumn leaves of my memory have undoubtedly swirled in anxious little circles. What are the kids' schedules? What supplies do they need? Does anybody have any clothes that still fit? What do you mean you won't be caught dead in those jeans? I just bought those! All the while fearing that one small thing -- a clogged toilet, a flat tire, a stomach bug -- could throw a monkey wrench into the carefully orchestrated schedule of carpools, after school activities and homework (not to mention a full time job).

Let's be clear: I made plenty of less-than-perfect decisions during the years when my children were in grade school, middle school and high school. I often said "no" to writing one more check or driving to one more activity. I'm sure my kids entertained thoughts -- not often, but from time to time -- that I was out to ruin their lives. But they survived. As did I. In all those autumns past, I did not groom them to become the people they are, nor could I have. And the occasional wrong color notebook or forgotten permission slip didn't change a thing.

Now that my kids are "adults" I am struck at how different Fall feels. Fall comes to my home state in a burst of golden light, with leaves fluttering like crimson and russet confetti in the barely-cool breeze. People from around the U.S. schedule autumn vacations just to admire our woodland hills and fertile fields, crowding into roadside inns and festival grounds in the weeks before the stark stillness of winter descends. And I, in turn, am more contemplative, less reactive, happy to see my kids thriving and wistful that it all went by so fast.

As my youngest returned to college this week, she took with her garbage bags full of clothes along with instruments, hair supplies, books, and other stuff -- all of which sat in my foyer as a monument to her physical and emotional presence. Now the house is neater, less cluttered and far quieter. I don't have to fret about the inevitable migraine I would get while trolling the aisles at Staples looking for a graphing calculator. Nor am I stressing over the daunting complexity of car pooling three kids to different schools and activities.

Instead, I feel more peaceful, happy to see my children thriving but wistful that they have truly flown the coop and are not my little chickadees any more. As a mother, I have more perspective having long ago relinquished the goal of trying to do everything right. In the process I learned to let things go and cherish what I have.

Now, watching the young mothers flailing about in the school supplies aisle at Target, I just want to pull them aside. I want to tell them to be kinder to themselves, to go on a last picnic or trip to the beach with their kids, and to soak up the remains of the summer sun and the fleeting years with their children.

This year, I'm preparing to embrace every golden glimmer of autumn in New England. I'll drive past Staples, note the crowded parking lot, and keep going until I find a farmers' market with just-pressed apple cider and jars of fruit butter. Then I'll find a scenic lane and cruise along until I spy the first crimson leaf of the season.