Today marks the first day of school. Today, all my children return to a regular schedule of formal learning after weeks and weeks of being the masters of their own time, much of which was spent in and around our home.

I wave goodbye as my last and youngest child rushes from the front porch to his waiting carpool, and gently close the front door.

I admit that I eagerly anticipated this moment. The weeks of unstructured vacation, while immensely enjoyable, were also hectic. Juggling my own schedule of work and obligations with the children's natural desires for non-stop outings, recreational activities and endless activities was challenging.

Don't get me wrong. I love to be surrounded by my children and to while away the time relaxing in their company. But, still, almost guiltily, I eagerly anticipated some quiet moments. Just the thought of lingering over my morning hot mug of coffee in absolute serenity sent waves of delicious pleasure through my mind.

As I closed the front door and turned towards my kitchen, I noted that there were no longer toys strewn across the living room floor for me to trip over. As I placed the broom back into the closet, I thought how today it would stay there, unlike the many recent days when it would be put to good use several times within an hour.

Polishing the kitchen table and quickly rinsing the remaining breakfast dishes, I knew that my counters would remain gleaming all day, free of smudges from dirty little fingerprints.

Returning the milk to its place in the refrigerator, I knew that today I wouldn't need to incessantly remind my youngsters to close the fridge door after each of their many visits investigating its contents.

There would be no shoes, sweaters or socks to pick up from the floor. No wooden building blocks or toy cars to put away. No spills to wipe. No remnants of craft paper to gather. No muddy footprints to scrape off the floor.

There would be no perpetual chatter, no complaints of boredom and no heated arguments requiring a referee.

Silence reigned. Utter silence.

Luxuriating over my second mug of coffee in the stillness of the moment, I could hear a lone bird chirping outdoors as I watched the silver clouds dance elegantly across the vast sky.

Peaceful tranquility.

Only the subtly creaking floor and the distant sound of the laundry machine whirring in the background broke the silence.

And then suddenly, without explanation, the peaceful quiet that I enjoyed but a moment earlier turned eerie. The stillness became oppressive, haunting with its deafening silence.

Suddenly, inexplicably, I longed for the peals of laughter, for the pulls of little hands on my skirt. I missed the hugs, the ceaseless inquisitive questions and the round cheeks smothered with chocolate to plant kisses on.

My serene home had become lonely walls and rooms. The moment of calm, anticipated for weeks, metamorphosed into an oppressive emptiness.

Though it was my children who began school on that September morning, I learned an invaluable lesson.

Sometimes we impatiently await an upcoming event. It may be a new stage of a child's growth or development, or a new change in our circumstances.

In anticipation, however, do not overlook the present. Savor each moment, each current phase — its cheerful parts together with its nuisances. Moments pass far too quickly not to celebrate each one fully.

Another thing I learned that morning: Even the best of moments, experienced alone, become meaningless. Real joy is only in those special times shared with another.

When my children returned home a few hours later on that same day, I think that I looked a little more affectionately at the smudges of chocolate on my counters and the muddy footprints on my floors.