I wish that young-mom me had listened more carefully to the wisdom of moms, aunts, cousins, and grandmas. “You’ll miss this one day,” they said. “All of it. Even the things you didn’t realize were things.”

As my not-so-tiny-anymore kids age at what seems like lightning speed, I am starting to feel the absence of them in tiny flashes. No more LEGO injuries, fewer toys to put away, quieter mornings. All good things, but with that calm and quiet also comes an odd sense of loss.

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Before I actually became a mother, I envisioned I would write letters to each of my kids once a month (or at the very least once a year) and that I would show them the letters when they were old enough. It would be such a special moment and forever a treasure.

Somehow, though, in the midst of running through life, writing hundreds of resumes for clients in between carpools, doctors’ appointments, practices, games, and dance recitals, it just never really materialized.

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During my pregnancies, I assumed I would create beautiful baby books documenting all my kids’ milestones in books they would treasure like I did the one my mom created for me. I picked out beautiful books and brought them to the hospital to get their newborn prints.

My daughter’s baby book was in great shape until about month 16 when my son joined the party.

At that point, taking a shower became a small victory and leaving the house was a full-on miracle. Baby books were no longer even in the realm of possibilities. Spoiler alert: my son’s book has tiny finger and footprints and the rest of his milestones are saved in iPhone notes and on an old Blackberry I keep in my junk drawer.

Somehow, writing lunchbox notes became my thing. From the first day of preschool, before my kids could read, I started writing little notes on scrap paper with hearts, stars, and lots of XOXOs.

When my kids were really little, I wondered if they even noticed. Often, my notes, which typically read “I love you. Love, Mommy XOXO” came home wet, crumpled, or in the same pocket I had lovingly folded and placed them into that morning.

One day, I came into my office (downstairs and laundry-room adjacent of course) to find a perfect Post-it in my daughter’s chubby toddler writing: “I love Mommy love Alaina.”

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Little love notes started popping up around the house, and I kept writing mine to them, confident my kids would always remember notes from mommy and would, as a result, write them for their kids.

Notes started to build up in outside pockets, saved for weeks at a time, and then moved to other special places.

My notes began to be little pep talks on days with big projects or exciting events, stand-ins for my presence on field trips when I wasn’t a class mom, or an invisible kiss on the cheek after a long morning of standardized testing.

Like most things in childhood, I wish I had been more aware of how finite it was. As moms, we move so quickly through the days and, just like that, things we never contemplated having an end are over. Without notice, the opportunity to savor that very last one slips away.

Similar to the last time my son napped in my lap and the last time my daughter wanted me to lie with her at bedtime, I never thought about it being something I would miss.

In fact, many mornings I cursed the note and was tempted to just reuse yesterday’s, just like many days I would silently stress about the things I could get done if I didn’t have a sleeping baby on me.

On an otherwise uneventful Thursday, my daughter dropped the bomb. I could stop writing notes . . . if I wanted. Casually, she said, “Mommy, you don’t have to write notes to me anymore if you don’t want to.”

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It wasn’t a big deal to her, but I could see (and hear) the meaning behind it. “Mommy, I’m a little too old (and way too cool) for notes in my lunchbox. My friends see them, and I feel embarrassed.”

Foreshadowing many more moments to come, I’m sure this was a window into a future of dropping her off at the corner, far enough away from the crowd of friends, and being way less fun, funny, or needed than I used to be.

I hope I can hold on to more of these lasts, that I can be slightly more present in the moment and more consciously grateful for the whispered “I love you,” the tiny forehead kisses, or those sweet, not-so-chubby-anymore fingers that almost imperceptibly slip into mine when no one is looking. For now, I’m just going to squeeze a little tighter, listen a little more closely, and try to slow down just enough to take it all in.

Rebecca Henninger

Rebecca Henninger is a mom, writer, and career/life coach to working moms trying to make it work. She lives in Northern NJ with her husband, two children, two high-maintenance rescue cats—Semicolon and Dash—and a guinea pig named Daryl. For more career, resume, and working mom tips, find her on the web at www.thejobgirl.com or follow her on Instagram at @thejobgirl.