It happened todaythe thing the wise mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers from generations past have warned me about. The day I thought wouldn’t come, or, at the very least, was still far off in the distance.

My kids no longer choose to sit next to me.

Sure, they still love me. Still squeeze in for late-night cuddles, and ask to get carried when their little legs get tired. But when given the choice between sitting with me and sitting with their friends, I no longer win the battle.

Now I watch them from a distance.

As they sit with their friends.

As they stand in the concession line.

As they eat their treats with sweet smiles and giggles.

Giggles I didn’t create. Giggles I now observe but don’t share in.

I watch as the big boys come over, attempting to shock them with a tease or a joke.

I watch, with growing fear, as my children share a glance between each other.

I watch, now a huge sense of relief, as my daughter rolls her eyes and shoos the big boys away.

It’s no longer my battle to fight. They can fight them on their own.

I sit on the bench alone, no longer a member of the cast but a member of the audience.

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I’ve dreaded this day for a long time. They all told me I would. “Just wait,” wiser mothers would tell me when I complained of being completely touched out or overwhelmed by their cuddles.

“Little things don’t stay little for long.”

I’m trying to treasure the independence. To breathe in the joy of raising kids who are independent, kids who can take care of themselves, kids who fit in easily in their social circles and can handle their own problems. In some ways, sitting back is a relief.

And frankly, it’s not as lonely as I expected. They are with me still. They’re not as gone as they told me they’d be. They’re still here. And I know they always will be here, even when they’re far from home. As the famous saying goes, I carry them with me even when we’re apart.

As I settle into my new place, I see their eyes seeking me. Two orange, Popsicle hands pop up from the group. My daughter calls to meher brother has made a mess, and I am needed.

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Tears spring to my eyes. But these tears are grateful ones. Tears that know these days are numbered, and tears that are thankful for another chance to take care of my babies.

We head to the restroom and I help wash sticky little hands. I help wipe off a Popsicle-stained face and dab at orange-spotted clothes.

An hour ago, I would have been agitated by yet another mess to clean.

But in this moment, I see it. My mess-cleaning days are drawing to an end.

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As I grab a paper towel from the dispensera dispenser my son is still, mercifully, too little too reachI squeeze him in for a quick little hug. I catch the scent of his hair, smelling of sunshine and pineapple popsicle.

And I thank my stars I still have time to appreciate these little moments before my littles are big.

Jaymi Torrez

Jaymi Torrez blogs at TheSaltyMamas.com with her bestie and blogging partner Christine. She has two small children and a super cool husband. Jaymi dreams of five minutes peace and going to the bathroom alone, but can more often be found holding a two year old on her lap while writing about the ups and downs of parenting.