I recently read an article on Slate about a parent’s emotional journey in preparing his grown son to go to college. Having only been on the student end of that perspective, his essay (thank you, Rob Lowe) took me back to the summer of 1996, and to what my parents might have felt as they prepared to move me into Tutwiler Hall that August. Until I read Lowe’s essay, I’d given little consideration to what the process must have been like for them, though I think it’s fair to say that any bit of sadness they felt was mixed with a healthy dose of reclaiming some peace and quiet at home.

It’s a fair point, for the rambunctious, disruptive reality of childrearing means total upheaval amidst the otherwise calmness of home.

Still, since reading the tenderness of Lowe’s words about his college-bound son, I have found myself less focused on the daily disarray and never-ending to do lists of family life, and more contemplative on its fleeting beauty.

My new favorite time of day has become just after supper, when my little family of four (or more accurately, six, if you count the four-legged fur babies) heads out to walk around our neighborhood.

It’s a time I savor, for I cannot see dishes that need washing, laundry that needs folding, or mail that needs organizing. When my daughter stops to pick a bouquet of milkweeds for me, I am overjoyed – and I mean it. When my son looks up at the sky and describes the sharks and whales he sees in the cloud formations, I ask him questions – and I listen intently to his answers.

I notice the honeysuckle that grows in the corner of a neighbor’s yard, and I stop to teach my children the inexplicable joy of tasting its unadulterated sweetness. In that moment, I am eight years old again, toting an empty Cool Whip container from my mother’s kitchen into the side yard, intent on filling the thing with as much suckled honey as I can collect in the span of an afternoon.

Before long, we run into our neighbors and, what a concept – absent smartphones and other distractions – we actually talk to each other. Kids who were unknown to us just moments before are suddenly arm-in-arm with my own children, playing ball, catching sticks, and chasing each other as if they’d been playing together for years.

It’s the kind of Norman Rockwell-ish stuff that I’m often too distracted to appreciate. But in reality, it’s right in front of me, all around me, all the time.

And it’s a lot more gratifying than the way I feel when the dishwasher is humming, the laundry is put away, and the kitchen table is tidy.

After all, if I am focused on a never-ending list of to-dos, what have I really done?

My family doesn’t need a taskmaster. They need me.

More than any one thing, it’s my presence that matters. I’ve always known this, but I’m keenly focused on it especially now, this last summer before my oldest starts kindergarten.

It’s here. Five years flashed by, and now, my baby, the same one who learned to grasp a rattle in what seemed like only yesterday, is going to big kid school. I am proud and nervous and a little sad all at once. I know that entirely too soon, it will be me preparing Ella for college, and this time, this stage of life when we are all acting like we’ve got the balancing act down but inside we’re secretly wondering if we are doing it right, will be a distant memory.

Thankfully, I’ve got 13 more summers until then.

And I’m going to make this one count.