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After a long day of traveling, I crawled into bed and worked on my laptop for a bit while Maile dropped immediately into a deep sleep. We had gotten up at 4am, left NC at 5:30. Our alternator in the Suburban went out at 8am, so we waited while that was fixed, ate breakfast at a neighboring diner, and tried not to think about how much it was going to cost. Right before Christmas.

After finally getting home nearly 12 hours after we left, unpacking, grocery shopping, feeding the kids, getting them ready for school, and trying to keep everyone from trashing the joint in case we had another showing come up, we arrived at the end of the day. I read a little Conroy until my eyelids got heavy, closed the book, and that’s when the panic hit.

Who knows where these things come from? Who knows what strange combination of synapses fire to send you down the path of worry, melancholy, or homesickness? How can we scientifically explain this experience of being human? Suddenly, I realized my fourteen-year-old son would be leaving the house in less than five years. I know how fast five years can go. I thought of his easy-going personality, his constant desire to make us laugh, his never-ending tales of Minecraft or football or the latest book he’s been reading. And I thought about that not being in my life. And I panicked.

Have I been a good enough dad? Have I done enough special things with him? Am I giving him the tools he needs to be a good human?

It was a visceral sensation in my gut. I glanced over at Maile. She was asleep, the covers pulled up to her eyeballs, dead to the world. I slid out of bed. I decided I’d go to his room and hang out, sit on his floor as I sometimes do and just listen. He loves that. He can talk and talk, and we rarely have one-one-one time in this house of eight.

I walked down the hall to his room, expecting to find him reading a book or squeaking out some last-minute homework. I peeked into the room. He was asleep, a book beside him on his bed. I guess it had been a long day for him, too.

I stared down at his face. I pulled the covers up. I put his book on the shelf and my hand stayed on it for a moment as I looked at him again, remembering the smile he had when he was a baby.

I’m such a sap.

The house was quiet, and I followed the quiet downstairs, turned out the lights our daughter always leaves on after she showers. I double-checked the locks, hit the hall light, and slipped back into bed beside Maile. These years? They’re actually minutes. Seconds. I blink, and here I am, 40 years old. This is it. This is life.

If you’re looking for a gift for a young (or young at heart) reader in your life, consider my book The Day the Angels Fell, described by Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy as, “Neil Gaiman meets Madeleine L’Engle.”