The fall is a time for firsts. Summer is over, vacations have been had, school is starting. The season is transitioning, and so are our kids’ lives. Birthdays are milestones that mark the passing of each year, no matter when they land—they are measured in years and inches on the doorframe, and in teeth lost or braces gained.

But it seems that no matter the age, the fall is when everything seems to happen.

I have sent three kids off to preschool and kindergarten, first grade and middle school, high school and then two to college. And today I put my oldest on a airplane with a backpack and a grin, a passport and a one way ticket to another country.

I never thought the day would come so soon, that I would successfully launch one out of the nest, but it has. And here I am, sitting in her room, crying amidst the leftovers of her childhood, hoping I did enough.

I wonder if I spent enough time with her—if we went to lunch enough times, or shopping, or to museums and plays, or for pedicures. I wonder if we snuggled in bed enough, watched movies, read books, drank tea, or if I Iistened to her enough—if I let her tell me her dreams, and didn’t silence her with mine. I wonder if I gave her enough of my undivided attention. I wonder if judged her too much, or not enough. I wonder if I said everything to her that has been in my heart since the day I first laid eyes on her, when they put her in my arms. I wonder that if I missed something, will I get another chance.

I look back at the new-mom me, and I wonder what the I-have-a college-grad me would say to her.

I think she would say, Love them. Love them up one side and down the other. You are only going to have them with you to love, to teach, to cherish for so long.

Sure, they are going to drive you nuts at times, they are going to defy you at times, they are even going to disappoint you at times. But through it all, you just need to love them. It is the only thing that matters. It is the only thing they will carry in their hearts, no matter where they are, no matter how old they get. It is the only thing that fills their souls and sustains them when they are out facing the world and defining who they are in it.

When they are happy, you want their hearts to fill and brim over in love and good fortune, and when they are sad, you want them to have enough in reserve that they are nourished through even the most challenging times.

And, you want them to want to come home, so you can love them some more. So just love them. It’s really all that matters.