For the first time in 20 years, a child of mine isn’t enrolled in Albany City Schools. No kiss and hug on the way out the door after Labor Day; no zipping and unzipping of backpacks in the kitchen; no choir and orchestra and track meets and chitchat with parents at same. No emails to teachers. No grades in the mail. No talk about AP classes next semester and next year and next, and next, and next.

For the first time in 25 years, my children are all adults. My youngest graduated high school in June and is now less than two weeks away from rocketing off into life as a mature and autonomous creature: first a gap year, then college. I am tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN, just as I was tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN when his two sisters launched before him, except, of course, I know full well HOW THE HELL THIS HAPPENED: I loved their father. He loved me. Our love made babies, boom boom boom, which subsequently exploded into the world with sweat and blood and violence (and in one case deft scalpel work) and then proceeded to eat and cry and eat more and cry more and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, although we never noticed the growing, not really, not while it was happening, not until we took them to the top of the basement stairs and put a ruler on their heads and scratched a line in pencil onto the wall while uttering look at thats and oooh good jobs and wow wow wows.

Those lines are still there. My babies are still there, squirming a little in my still-vivid memory, wincing at Mom and Dad and just wanting to be set free from the peculiar and ritualistic parental urge to mark off milestones. Milestones don’t matter to children. Children don’t get sentimental at the first day of kindergarten, or the last kiss and hug on the way to school. They don’t stop to think, “I won’t ever walk home again with Mommy this way,” or “I won’t ever eat a bagged lunch she made for me with a smushed PB&J,” or “She’ll never again hold me on her lap or read me a picture book or give me a terrible bowl cut that I will look back upon with horror for the rest of my living days.”

Children do their job without guilt or misty reflection: They grow up. And as they do, they leave us gasping with pride and wonder, marveling at the beauty and rapidity and unaffected grace of their departures from us. They’re always rocketing away, and we’re always feeling the tug. As I explained in an earlier blog post, my mother always characterized this in umbilical terms: The cord never truly breaks. It only stretches.

And boy, is it stretching now.

As for me, I am not sure what life will entail in this new era I’m facing. I suppose I should begin by unsubscribing to school-district emails — will I need to know about snow days any longer? — but I don’t have the guts. Not yet. Nor do I know what to say when people ask me how I’ll cope with the empty nest, a logical question that I’ve asked myself every second of every minute of every waking hour for the last six months. My usual response is this: I’m framing it as an opportunity. I’m framing it as a chance to figure out who I am — I, a singular pronoun at an existential crossroads, facing an unwritten chapter with a shape and syntax yet to be revealed.

For the first time in 30 years, I’ll be well and truly alone. I tell myself that this is inevitable. That it’s necessary. That it’s good for all of us. That all I’ve wanted, since the death of my husband seven years ago, is to know that my three brave and extraordinary kids (and can someone please coin a decent term for adult children) are living their lives with hope and pluck and independence. That I’ll do my job right, and they’ll leave me.

They’re leaving me. Miracle of miracles, joy beyond joy, they’re leaving me.