The other day I was playing around with my three-year-old daughter, and I felt a sensation I believe most parents know all too well. I don’t know if there is a specific name for this feeling, but I know it’s a very real feeling that flutters through my consciousness occasionally. It came about this time as I was listening to her talk. Hearing not only the astonishing girth of new words coming out of her, but also the formulation of the sounds required to create those words. Her tonalities and pronunciations were changing, becoming more clear and concise.

She’s growing up.

I am, of course, incredibly proud of her and all she is learning and creating. I am reminded constantly of her ubiquitous growth and change, of the fact that she is on a steady march away from the little baby I could hold in one arm and gently rock to sleep. I see her face become more mature, her long legs carry her faster and farther, her eyes sparkle ever brighter. I feel her emotions become more defined and stronger. I hear her voice become more clear and profound.

This is the natural path we all take, but in this case I’m watching it happen in front of my eyes. My son, who is now seven, is also progressing and growing into a healthy strong-willed young man. It seems to me my feelings are a bit more pronounced watching my daughter’s transformation, however. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because we didn’t take the time to allow ourselves to focus on his changes as much. He wasn’t much older than my daughter is now when she was born, and a newborn can really monopolize attention. Maybe it feels more pronounced for me because she’s a girl. Could it be that her blindingly bright and sunny disposition attracts more profound and insightful focus from me?

Regardless of why, I know there is a general word for my feeling: bittersweet. I am so happy for her and delight in her every step forward. Every step away from me. I see her growth and her inner fire and I know she will be alright in this world. She won’t need me to take care of her forever. Her strength and her passion and her independence will carry her confidently through the challenges of life, I’m sure. She will be able to face her trials with poise and intelligence, and I take solace in my knowledge that she will take with her a full set of well-honed emotional tools thanks to the strong positive influences in her life. I will be watching from the sidelines with great foreboding and trepidation.

All parents can hope for is to have the opportunity to watch their children grow away from them, to sprout strong legs of independence that will lead them on their own journey. As parents we help as best we can, and we wish for the best. I would do anything in my power to shield my children from any ailment this world may bring, but of course this is a counter-productive act of paternal foolishness and impossibility. They must face hardships, they must fight their own battles, and they must conquer their own demons.

Just not yet.