We took the oldest back up the mountain to Boone on Friday for his sophomore year. The transfer didn’t carry the same initial sting as it did that first couple times, but the ache returned as soon as I saw his empty bed back at the house.

I remember the first day I dropped him off at kindergarten, the shock of letting go of his hand and watching him walk away.

The middle child posed for yearbook photos on Saturday, in the waning days before senior year, then returned promptly to the bedroom and shut the door. This one was so cute in first grade that older students in the elementary school would stop to give the kid hugs in the middle of the hallway.

The youngest, who begins her first year of high school next week, seems like she’s just biding her time watching YouTubes until she gets her driver’s license and peels off.

I still remember watching her at 7 years old, getting on a school bus by herself in the hour before sunrise for the long ride to her magnet school, never once looking back.

We’ve seen them through kindergarten, spent years hoarding school uniforms, acclimated to bus schedules and homework rituals, joined PTAs, chaperoned the DC trips, lost our tempers the night before the science fair deadline, finally figured out what these kids will eat for lunch.

We’ve cycled through closets full of khaki pants and polo shirts. We’ve burned through 50 backpacks. We’ve signed a hundred permission slips. Did I mention I chaperoned the fifth-grade trip to Washington DC? Twice?

Now, it feels a little bit like the endgame.

I wish I could effectively communicate the levels of stress associated with getting little kids dressed, fed and off to school on time; enforcing the discipline of homework on unwilling participants; wheeling three kids through after-school activities at three different schools.

Alas, I cannot. Just as I can’t quite anticipate what our lives will look like without all that structure, all that regimentation.

And all those empty beds.

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