If, while dusting, you stop to gaze intently at a small grinning face in a homemade popsicle-stick frame, you've got it.
If you flip the radio station violently away from the oldies station playing Harry Chapin's classic "Cat's In The Cradle," you've got it for sure.
I call it Parental Melancholia.
The primary symptom is a twist of sadness that takes your breath away and makes you lose your balance. It comes with the realization that ... they're done with childhood. Those days of diapers and midnight feeds took place a decade and a half ago; the only sleepless nights you endure now are when you worry uselessly over their driving, dating, debt, or discipleship habits.
It's okay to grieve our losses, however small, and that includes saying farewell to our children's childhood. Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed the desolation we feel about the relentless passage of time in his classic poem, Spring and Fall:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
But that's what parenting over the long haul's all about, isn't it? Easing yourself out of the way so that Margaret turns to Jesus when she mourns.