When my oldest sons turned 18 and prepared to leave the nest, I was ready. Though I loved them madly and would miss them, I was actually looking forward to days uninterrupted by calls from their school principal, a refrigerator that contained food instead of empty milk cartons, and the absence of the teenage funk that permeated the house. I was so proud of them as they walked across the stage at their graduations. Academics had not come easy to them (neither did rule following), but somehow, we had actually crossed the finish line, them with a diploma in hand and me with at least some of my sanity intact.

So I was quite unprepared for the tsunami of emotion that overcame me recently when I glanced over at my youngest son, Nathan, as he was filling out some paperwork for college at our kitchen table. With his head cocked to the left, pen held in a death grip, and single-mindedly absorbed in the task, he looked so much like the 3rd grader he had been not all that long ago, sitting in that same chair engrossed in his multiplication tables. My eyes filled with tears and I could hardly breathe: my baby was rounding the final turn on his senior year and would be leaving home in a few short months.

This time, though, I am not ready. Yes, Nate is a typical teenage boy and his bedroom, like those of his brothers, reeks of two weeks’ worth of sweaty gym clothes and other various toxic fumes. His video game habit borders on obsession, and he frequently descends upon the refrigerator like a swarm of voracious, insatiable locusts. And though he is my rule follower and not as inclined toward mischief as his brothers were, he exhibits plenty of teenage rebellion—the incessant eye rolling in and of itself is maddening. And so for the last few years, Nate and I have partnered in a dance that is familiar to most mothers and sons. This dance has occasionally been frustrating—at times he’s stepped on my toes, and at others, I on his. But it has been a beautiful dance, nonetheless; and I simply am not ready for it to be over.

Perhaps my distress is compounded by the fact I tucked away my sadness when the twins left home. Not only did we need the break from one another (an above-average number of toes were stepped on in our dances), I still had a youngster in the house, and nine more years of dancing ahead of me. But now I hear the waning of the music.

Time has a way of sneaking up on us; there’s no better reminder of that for me than looking into the man-like face of my youngest son. Ready or not, at the end of this summer, I will take my bow and exit the dance floor as Nate begins a waltz that is all his own. I pray that his dance, too, is a beautiful one.