I have been dreading this day for 16 years.
Tomorrow will be Phoenix's 16th birthday.
For 16 years I have had a child or six to take care of during the day.
For 16 years I have had a little hand to hold or a little body to hug or a little face to kiss any time I wanted, day or night.
For 16 years I have loved this job more than anything I have ever done in my life.
Taking care of little kids is what I was made to do.
I was made to read to them.
I was made to play games with them.
I was made to take them on adventures.
I was made to do crafts with them.
I was made to wrestle with them.
I was made to take care of them.
I was made to push them on swings.
I was made to listen to their stories and answer their questions.
I was made to bake with them.
And then one day, after 16 years, everything that I was made to do can't be done anymore.
After 16 years, the youngest child starts school.
While yes, I know he's only 5 and I will still get to do plenty of these things with him and his siblings, I also know that once a child enters school, everything changes.
There will be hours of my day where I am not surrounded by the little people that bring me such happiness.
I have had hours of my day in which I'm not surrounded by children before. Of course I have.
This is very different.
Before, in those hours, I knew the kids were at home and I felt an urgency to get back to them.
When I drop that little 5 year old off at preschool, that's it. No one will be at home waiting for me. I can't just go home and get a hug from a little person. I can't go teach a little person how to skip rocks in the creek at the park. I won't be able to hear a little voice asking me what is under grass.
It will just be me.
And the quiet.
Well, quiet except for the loud sobbing.
And with each quickly-passing year, it will only be more and more time that the kids are away from me.
Do me a favor.
When you see me around, please don't ask me what I'm going to do now that the kids are in school.
The answer is "crying".
I know this is normal. I knew from the moment Phoenix was born that my job was to lead my kids to independence.
Away from me.
I've been dreading it ever since.
After the tears have been shed, I'll think of something.
I have no doubt my days will get filled rather quickly with things to do.
I'm pretty sure at least part of those days will be filled with other people's children.
That sounded bad.
Don't worry. I won't be snatching anybody's kids off the street, but the image makes me laugh.
"Honest, Officer, I just wanted to make a Christmas ornament with him. I was going to take him back to his parents! I swear!"
So, don't ask me.
I'll let you know when I figure it out.
Right now, I have to go squeeze a certain little boy until his eyes pop.
Have a lovely day!