There is always a dry, wilted flower lying on my desk—it’s one of the flowers my 10-year-old son has picked from the yard and given to me in the capricious way young children do. When I least expect it, he’ll thrust a dandelion, buttercup, wild morning glory, or purple clover blossom in front of my face. Then he’ll declare his love for me and kiss my cheek.

For the past year I’ve been unable to throw these simple gifts into the trash when I tidy up my desk. Holding the dead little flower between my fingers, I wonder if this will be the last one. My 10-year-old is my youngest child.

As he grows up, there will soon enough be a “last one” for so many things.

There will be a last bedtime story, a last little dirty hand print to wipe off the window, a last Lego found hidden in the depths of the couch cushions, a last time he says “Mommy” before switching permanently to “Mom,” a last “I love you” stick-person drawing, a last time he will hold my hand in public, a last request for a kiss goodnight. Little by little, I will have to mourn each of these things, just like I did with my older son, only this time it will be harder. This time it is the final curtain call, my youngest child—my baby.

I’m not ashamed to say that some days, when I allow these thoughts to overwhelm me, I burst into tears. Back when I was in the throes of those difficult mothering years, the diaper changes, bottle feedings, the all-nighters in the rocking chair, and the older women warned me, “Enjoy that baby, they grow up fast,” I didn’t believe them. Now I know they were right.

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I also know the next ten years will be gone just as quickly as the first ten did. The day will come when I help my boy, who at this point will most likely be taller than me, pack his things into boxes for college and I will find myself in the library considering books on “empty nest syndrome.” The silence of the house and their vacant rooms will leave a ringing in my ears. I will remember all the times I yelled over the din of their squabbles and playful wrestling, “Would you guys please be quiet!” while rubbing my throbbing temples.

Experts say that we mothers should make sure we have other interests, hobbies, passions—things to occupy us once our days are no longer filled with the demands of our children—I have done that. I have my husband, friends, my career as a freelance writer. I have books to read, and various pastimes to fill my hours, but somehow I know it isn’t going to be enough. All I can do is cherish the time we have together, these tender, fleeting years. All I can do is save each flower that is given to me as if it were my last.