When I got home from work one day last week, four-year-old Maddie tugged on my arm. “Mom, come watch me – I know how to pump on the swing!” Beaming my approval, I followed her to the swing set. She hopped on the swing and started moving her legs – back and forth, back and forth. Slowly, the momentum lifted her into the air.

I sat down on the deck and watched her, cheering her on. Marcel stepped out of the house and stood beside me. “Yeah,” he said, “she just figured it out today. It’s kinda nice now – I can sit on the deck, read my paper and drink my coffee, and she doesn’t bug me to push her on the swing anymore.”

A few days later, we were at the church picnic and I sat relaxing in the shade talking to the other grown-ups as we watched the kids play. Maddie swung high in the air on the swings. Julie wandered off to play somewhere else, and Nikki picked up her 7 month old cousin and found a quiet place to entertain her. “Ah,” I sighed happily to my friends, “my kids don’t need me much anymore. I can actually finish a drink now without having to get up to push someone on the swing, change a diaper, or wipe a snotty nose.” It felt SO luxurious to have a conversation with friends at a church function without interruption.

Maddie’s accomplishment on the swing marks another milestone in the growth of our family. With the third and final child, each “first” also marks a “last”. The first step meant our last crawler. The first word meant the end of baby talk. The first sippy-cup meant the last bottle or breast-feeding. The first time on a real bike (with training wheels so far) meant the last of the tricycles.

Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that we became parents and learned how to change diapers, soothe aches and pains, potty train, etc., etc. Now here we are with all these major steps already behind us. No more potty training. No more rocking them to sleep. No more high chairs or bibs. No more pushing them on the swings (well okay, sometimes they still WANT it even if they don’t NEED it :-).

It comes with some bittersweetness, this growing up thing. Yes it’s nice to sit back and watch them swing high as the trees without my help. Yes it’s nice to finish a grown-up conversation without interruption. Yes it’s nice to not have to be the source of everything for a needy little baby anymore. I don’t deny the pleasure in those things – in fact I quite enjoy it.

But there’s the other side of it too – the part that fills us with a bit of sadness when they don’t need us anymore. Nikki is such a grown-up girl she handles her baby cousin with ease and responsibility. She’s almost ready to stay home without adult supervision, and soon she’ll be babysitting. Julie can quite capably bake a cake by herself. Maddie can reach light switches and pump herself on the swings.

From here on in, they will continue to need me less and less. It’s beautiful and it’s painful all at the same time. Before long, I’ll be in the same shoes as Linda, watching my youngest graduate. Sigh.

In the meantime, though, before they run off to lives of their own, I sure hope I can remember to taste the sweetness of every moment I still have them with me. I may not have to push Maddie on the swing anymore, but once in awhile, I’ll at least sit and watch her.

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