08/15/2012 10:47 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2012

The Indelible Patterns Of Parenting

It is time to restock the "supply cabinet" at our house and fill it up with pens, pencils, notebooks and highlighters. A shopping trip for new shoes is on the agenda, too.

I don't mean for my kids -- although I will probably pick them up a couple of things along the way. No, nowadays I make these trips for me.

When I had children, I knew the rhythms of my life would change. ("You'll never sleep again!" strangers would gleefully tell me.) What I didn't realize -- what all those strangers didn't mention -- was how etched and ingrained the changes would become. The patterns of parenting have come to define my days and my years. I live by them even after my children have moved on.

Yes, the most obvious is sleep. I was a night owl before my son was born, but, as the strangers predicted, he wasn't. For more than a decade, I followed his schedule, and then his brother's -- up early, first to nurse and change them, eventually to wrangle them off to school. I felt vaguely jet-lagged for a while, a visitor to a time zone not my own. Then they became teens, sleeping long past noon on weekends, not getting to bed until who knows when, while I ... was no longer capable of doing either of those things. I sleep like a parent -- with one ear listening for cries in the night -- long after they've stopped sleeping like children.

Throughout my day there are parenting moments, vestigial pauses that linger past their purpose. When I stop short in the car, I still put my hand out, to protect a youngster who isn't there. I reach for Nutella at the supermarket, even though one son no longer likes it and the other wouldn't put that much sugar in his body, thank you very much. I mark their birthdays on the calendar and make sure I am not working late, even though they are as likely to have their celebrations with their friends as with me.

At about three every afternoon I wonder how their school day went. There's no more babysitter to call, no activities to schedule, and my oldest, a college student, hasn't actually finished classes at three for years. Still, my internal alarm is still set to old patterns.

And as summer ends and Labor Day nears, I prepare for a new school year. This will be the first when both my boys are away, buying their own supplies, using them out of sight.

But I will have sharpened pencils at the ready. Just in case. And just because.