Everyone tells you about the firsts and how special they are: first tooth, first step, first word. But I didn’t know I should pay equal attention to the lasts: the last bedtime story, the last time I walked my son to school, the last night my daughter waited for the tooth fairy to arrive.

I didn’t realize these events were the very last in our lives until days, months, or even years later. In other words, not until the moments were long gone.

The dates are not recorded in a baby book. There were no ceremonies or celebrations, just fleeting moments that make up a childhood, fading and then gone.

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When my children were younger, bath and bedtime were events Stephen King couldn’t do justice to. The blood-curling screams and fights seemed to last forever and were just two more obligations in a long day separating me from a glass of wine.

My children are two years apart, so I must have helped with baths more than a thousand times over the years, but now, I can’t clearly remember a single one. Certainly not the last.

Photographs remind me of soap-scrubbed, chubby-faced smiles, and towel-wrapped hugs. When I look at those pictures it is almost as if it is then again, and I am there. But at the time, my mind, I’m certain, was often elsewhere.

My daughter, who is now 13, would rather go most places we used to go together with friends: Starbucks, the movies, the mall.

If I could have raised her in reverse, from teenager to infant, I would have treasured each time she ran down the stairs excited to see me after work. 

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My son is 11, and I’m trying to identify the lasts before they’re gone. Is this the last time he’ll want to dress up for Halloween? Is today the last day he’ll want my help with homework?

Maybe.

I don’t know for certain.

That’s just the thing about the lasts.

So, today I will try to remember every detail while sitting at the dining room table with him and his books, instead of just rushing to move on and get it done.

The time our children live in our homes is so short and our time to do everything together, even shorter.

It took 13 years for me to realize we raise our children to let them go.

It’s breathtaking to witness them growing up with passions, lives, and interests all their own.

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I would never hold them back. And yet, somehow, the leaving is just as hard as the loving.

Kim Brown Reiner

Kim Brown is a teacher, mother and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Village Voice, TODAY.com and many other publications. She tries not to speak to kids before drinking coffee.