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The other day I was making dinner when my son walked in, surprising us with a long weekend home from college. I literally squealed with delight when I saw him and ran to give him a long hug. He grinned at me and my heart leaped with joy. There is nothing better than having all of your kids at home, together.

My son tossed his bags by the front door, kicked off his shoes and sighed as he told us that it felt so good to be home. I spent years trying to get this boy to put his shoes away . . . but now I am thrilled to see them sitting by my front door. I am thrilled to see his overflowing bag of laundry. I am thrilled to see the light on in his bedroom. I am simply just thrilled to have him near, to know he is safe, to know that he is home.

He comes over to me, puts his arm around my shoulder and says, “I’m starving! What’s for dinner?” I laugh at him because some things never change, no matter how big they get. This boy is always hungry. He grins down at me again.

That grin . . . it catches me off-guard for a minute.

That grin . . . it is the same impish grin he has had since he was two-years-old.

I swallow hard as I realize how quickly we got here, from two to 19. I glance at this son I’ve raised and see the stubble on his chin and hear the deepness of his voice. It seems like it was only yesterday when he was playing with dinosaurs and holding my hand . . . and it is hard to accept that he is now a man. Everyone always tells you the years go by fast, but that harsh reality hits you when you wake up one morning and notice your babies are now adults and your nest is quickly becoming empty. It is a bittersweet time as joy and sadness bind together . . . so happy and excited for them yet so heavy-hearted they are growing and leaving. This, my friends, is the hardest part of motherhood.

As I finish dinner, my son sits on the stool and talks to me about what’s been going on in his life at college. I listen, soaking up this moment, totally enjoying having him here. I am very aware that he will be gone again in a couple of days and his chair will once again be empty. I know time is precious and I want to be present in this moment.

He then tells me it is nice to be home because he doesn’t have to worry about anything while he is here and all of his stresses disappear when he walks through that door.

I smile at him. That is how is should be. Home . . . it is a safe space. It’s where you can relax and be yourself. It is a place where you know you are always accepted, adored and loved unconditionally. And if you are lucky, it is a place where your mom just might do your laundry this week.

I am going to be full of mushy joy this weekend having all of my kids home. I am going to love the banter and the late-night noise as my houseful of teens play video games and watch movies. My heart is going to overflow with thankfulness as we all sit around the dinner table together. I am going to savor this time because I know these moments are fleeting and life is changing.

This stage of motherhood is the most difficult of all. It is emotionally draining. It is a time of big worries and letting go. It is a time of being there, but not intruding. It is a time when you have to stand back and watch your child figure it out on their own . . . sometimes you watch them soar and other times your heart breaks when they fall. It is a time when you ache to hold on to them, but are constantly being pushed away. It is a time when your heart swells with so much pride, yet shatters every time you realize they are leaving you again.

And it dawns on me how many times over the years I have heard, “Slow down and enjoy this stage because one day you will miss it.” And that is so true . . . I miss rocking babies and baseball games and lots of snuggles, but I’m realizing that what I miss most of all is simply having all of my kids at home. . . together, under one roof.

I love this man-child of mine and am so proud of who he is. My door will always be open . . . for when his heart leads him home. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for him. I will cheer him on and encourage him as he goes off on his own and finds his independence.

But I know my heart will break just a little next week, when those shoes by the front door are gone again.

Proverbs 22:6

Originally published on Faith, Love & Chaos

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Heather Duckworth

I am a wife & mother to 5 awesome kids, 4 on earth and 1 in Heaven. From having triplets, to losing a child to cancer, to adopting – I have experienced about every joy, challenge & heartache of motherhood. I often write about family, faith & the crazy chaos that is my life.

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