A brief moment at the kitchen counter, shoulder to shoulder, cheese and apple slices by their elbows. I poured coffee and watched silently, as if invisible. They consulted on snacks and temperatures, assembled backpacks and lunchboxes, chatted in peace, and were out the door, walking in step down the block. I gasped quietly.

Was I not just maneuvering a bulky red double stroller down the block, toddlers with sippy cups bouncing along walking their sister to Kindergarten, first and second grades? Weren’t a small boy and girl just flipping their coats from the floor, putting small shoes on the sometimes right feet and wrestling with backpacks that hit the backs of their knees? Weren’t they just carrying lunch boxes bigger than their tiny heads? Fighting about walking together, heading off in different directions to meet friends? Was it yesterday that I picked out outfits and backpacks contained small stuffed animals, predecessors of Airpods, calculators and other signs of growing teens?

How many times did we walk down the block, hand-in-hand, side by side? How many skipping steps and anxieties hit the pavement? How many Pinocchio-nose seed pods stuck on our noses? How many times did I stand outside the schoolyard fence, urged to stay but be invisible, my eyes focused on children to give silent backup comfort while these two, the smallest bodies of their classes, navigated lines and social dynamics? How many times was I asked to stay ‘til the bell rang?

Today they are out the door to the last weeks of middle school, shoulders tall, cautious anticipation and masks on their faces. A different first day after a different year. The permissions and bans have changed. A kiss on the head or hug?! Instead I kiss my hand and unsuccessfully reach out to touch heads nearly at my height. After countless school days lollygagging in the kitchen and at the dining room table, the two descend the porch steps with determination, calling “No!” to the the requisite first-day picture. “Tomorrow,” I am assured. But with no guarantees of capricious teen will, I catch the moment, two backs moving down the block in stride, not caring that loud consequences will result from a photograph taken. I waited and watched for this day of return, I know I did. But now…be still my heart.