It happens every year, and everyone goes through it but each time it’s like it’s the very first time.

I remember my first child’s first day of school – a mess of tears for me, wondering if I were doing the right thing, sending him off, saying goodbye. Had I prepared him enough for what was to come? Did I even know what lay ahead for him? Could I protect him from all the bumps and bruises, emotional and physical, that would surely come?

And then in quick succession, the second and third child, off to school. Pictures and backpacks, the night before laying out the perfect outfit for the first day, allaying first day jitters (mine and theirs), reassuring them that it would all be OK, it always is.

Today, my kids marched into 1st, 4th, and 5th grades, packed and ready, each with a very particular lunch of their favorite foods and healthy snacks to boot. We were up early in my house. We made pancakes (from scratch) and bacon (nitrate-free), sat on the couch and read an early morning book, before the sunrise.

We argued about whether it’s appropriate for a 4th grade girl to wear short-shorts to school (it’s not). We hugged quite a lot. And then I sent them off.

Is it any wonder that it’s raining today, gray with a sky full of clouds? I know they’ll be fine – that’s the mantra we parents offer when our children leave. It’s what our parents said about us, too, and we mostly were.

The thing is, this parenthood journey goes by so fast. How did I end up with a fifth-grader? Next year, middle school? I still wonder the same questions I had all those years ago – how can I protect them from falls and hurt feelings, have I taught them well enough so that they can get along in the world?

It’s something we will always wonder, but somehow they are sure to be fine.

This last weekend, Dan and I spent two glorious days in sunny southern California at a lovely little inn. The proprietor told us about her grown children – one married, one thriving in a food industry career. Just two years ago, the daughter was stumbling along her path, barely making ends meet. Now, the mother is coaching her in IRAs and what to do with her expendable income.

Our jobs as parents never end. But they can’t be all-consuming, can they? For the very nature of parenthood is to do such a good job that your job eventually ends. These blessed souls trusted to us for such a short time take wing and head off into the world to their own discoveries, explorations and accomplishments.

Well, I hear it ends somewhat, in the day to day aspect of it, but it never truly ends. At least that’s what I’m hoping for.

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