Over the years and at irregular intervals, we’ve marked the children’s height with pencil on a stretch of wall space in the dining room entryway. Over the years they’ve climbed like a slowly growing earthworm, a family history writ small in initials and dates.

I noticed this morning that my babygirl, who becomes a teenager in about a week, is almost as tall as her mother. A painful sweetness aches my heart when I look at her and simultaneously see the tiny baby who used to grab my nose and the confident young woman she’s becoming. It helps, I find, to focus on the way she is now.

My wife and I are almost 20 years into our little homesteading experiment that really began early one morning in a New Orleans barroom, where she had the audacity to order a glass of orange juice with no ice. And we’re slowly coming to grips with the fact that we’re approaching the next phase.

Our middle child, complicated like his father, lays deep in the couch of teenage angst that for me was a cauldron of deep discontent, one that brought my disrespect for authority and outlaw tendencies to a slow boil. We have yet to see where this will lead him, but unlike his father he’s set his sights pretty high.

His pencil mark on the wall took a 5-inch upwards bound this year, and I believe the next time he’ll click up a notch in the rankings.

I currently hold the highest mark on the wall, besting our oldest son by a fraction of an inch; I expect him to pass me any day now.

The eldest is beginning to ease out of the teenage insanity, to see his future more clearly, to understand that his childhood will eventually have to come to an end. Like all of my children, he is in much better shape to handle the rigors of what comes next than I was.

He’s off to college in the fall, the first of our baby chicks to fly the coop, making this the last Halloween, the last Thanksgiving, the last Christmas with our little family intact.

Off they’ll go, one by one. And then, not long after, we’ll make those final pencil marks on the wall.

After that, their growth is up to them.

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