I’d had an uneasy feeling for a couple weeks—a mother’s intuition that perhaps something was wrong. After repeatedly checking in with each of my children, I started thinking that maybe the “something wrong” was with me. When my daughter called to tell me that she had picked up her books for the semester and classes would begin in a few days, it hit me. This is the first fall in 26 years that I have not prepared a child for the first day of school.

Several days later, a notice appeared in our mailbox that a paper route had opened up in our neighborhood. A flood of memories came back to me—of folding and stuffing newspapers into plastic sleeves, following my son in the car on rainy mornings and filling in when he was sick.

I began to think about how much of my personal life was spent nurturing and caring for my children. While I could grow weary at times and joke about “turning in my mommy button,” the truth is that I loved every minute of it. I did not do their homework, but I provided the proper tools and helped with suggestions, explanations and reminders. I didn’t demand involvement in sports activities or after-school jobs, but offered transportation and support. I scheduled the parent-teacher appointments, provided treats when asked and made sure that all items on the supply lists were crossed off.

While I’m not a gifted teacher like this month’s interviewee, Karen Calder, I did try to be a good supportive mom. I always got tears in my eyes when the kids left for the first day of school. I realized I could not give them all A’s and happy faces, or protect them from bullying or being left out of an important social group. I understood there were some disappointments I could not simply “kiss and make better.” And each year, I watched them grow more independent.

Last fall I helped my daughter move into her first apartment, so the supply list included several pieces of furniture, a few pots and pans, some notebooks and a computer printer. Although she seldom asked me to help with homework in the past year, when she called from the grocery store to ask what kind of ground beef to buy to make tacos, I was happy.

The other day, as I held her 13-year-old dachshund, I realized how much the dog and I have bonded the past few years. He looked up at me with understanding, as only a pet can do, and gave me a “kiss” while I shed a tear thinking about the beginning of another school year.

Later that day, I smiled at the moms and their kids discussing school supplies in the checkout lane of a discount store. I chuckled to myself when looking down at my shopping cart—I was about to purchase the dog a new bed, chew treats and a doggie outfit. He should be good to start the semester! TPW