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Goodbye, Ballerina

August 29, 2008

Even though I know thousands of South Dakota parents are going through the same thing, somehow that doesn't make it any easier. This week, my wife Kimberley and I joined the ranks of the empty nesters.

We dropped our youngest daughter Larissa off at college, and in that simple act, entered a new phase in life. I can't say I'm enjoying it yet. I am happy for Larissa and for the exciting experiences that lie ahead of her. The kids always seem more ready for change than their parents and always seem to take it more in stride.

I guess part of my reluctance to embrace this new phase in life stems from the fact that I so thoroughly enjoyed the last phase. Even though raising kids is work-at times hard work-there is nothing as rewarding as sharing life's experiences with those little ones God entrusts to your keeping. You know it has to end, but you're never quite ready when it does.

And so as I drive away from Larissa's new home and take one last look in the rearview mirror, it's bittersweet. I look with pride on the young woman she's become and at the same time yearn for the little girl she's left behind. There's a unique relationship between a dad and his daughter, formed in life's small moments.

Stored in my mental files are 18 years worth of images and sounds from my little girl. There's the first cherry snow cone-what a mess, the dainty little ballerina, skipping stones on the Missouri River, jars filled with butterflies, fireflies, and an occasional frog, Mrs. Brazones' piano recital, sun-drenched soccer weekends, the medal stand at Howard Wood Field, a prairie pheasant hunt, and the hike to the top of Harney Peak.

In the words of that great philosopher Trace Atkins, "You're gonna miss this." I wouldn't trade it for all the money in the world. These have been the very best of days.

For Kimberley and me, life goes on, but it will never be quite the same. If you are a parent who is weary of the daily grind of raising children in this busy world, don't forget to enjoy those small moments. It'll be gone before you know it.