This afternoon, the Reds were a stinky, filthy mess after the impromptu soccer game in our dog-poop and mud-filled backyard.
One after the other I tossed them into the shower, scrubbing away the dirt and listening to their happy play-by-plays. Sent them downstairs while I gathered up their wet things in a basket and contemplated the wisdom of throwing their running shoes into the washing machine, too.
From the bathroom, Mark prepared his own shower as I added his clothes to the mix, clucking and smiling at the fact that no matter how old boys get, they're happiest when they're dirty.
"Some boys came up the road while Matthew was showering," Mark said, conversationally, as I sorted and tossed. "Three of them, on bikes, in the middle of the road."
"Oh, yeah?" I stopped then, sharpened my gaze on his face, which was suddenly filled with something I could not place but now recognize as tenderness.
"They asked if Matthew lives here. They're friends of his from school and wanted to know if he could join them."
I stared at him, processing a flurry of suddenly overwhelming feelings and thinking hard.
Lowered the basket to my hip and took a deep breath in.
Blew it out.
"Huh. I guess it's about that time, eh?"
Mark smiled then, a gentle one, just for me. "Yep. It's about that time."
Another deep breath from me, followed by a sigh that came from the very bottom of my heart. "I guess this is the part where we trust him to make the right choices and be safe and ride off with his friends."
"They were all wearing helmets."
"Well, that's something, anyway," I offered him a tremulous smile of my own before gently closing the door to leave him to his business and his own thoughts.
Came down to start supper and think about how much I want to stop Time, for just a moment longer.
Realized - though not for the first time - that letting go isn't a big, huge step.
It's a thousand tiny moments, just like this one - when the world outside beckons my children to come out and explore, discover and learn...my job is to let go and trust them to do just that.
But I can't help but think, "Weren't they JUST born?"