For 51 years I’ve been on this earth, for nearly 17 of those years as a parent and for 12 as a parent at our neighborhood elementary school.

I have been walking one or more of my children to that school since 2007. Today was the last day.

This wouldn’t matter so much if those seven-minute walks hadn’t been my favorite moments to be alive.

They began with Young Miss Weisman, were joined by Young Master Weisman two years later and then, three months after Young Miss Weisman moved on to middle school, by Youngest Master Weisman. Since the fall of 2015, he’s been going solo with me.

It was always special to walk with my older two kids, sharing moments with them that had no interference of any kind, not even the distraction of the words of the books I read to them way back when. Just being on these endlessly renewable mini-journeys. But two things have made the walks with my youngest harder for me to say goodbye to.

First, Youngest Master Weisman was just endlessly entertaining and ridiculously original. I swear, I should have kept a mini-journal for each of the walks, to document all the bits he came up with — some joke, or weird observation, or play on words, or goofy impression, or meaningless yet so meaningful anecdote. I never really wondered whether he would run out of material, but I never stopped being amazed that he didn’t.

Secondly, as much as I had been warned about it, I didn’t fully appreciate the change that would come when my older kids became teenagers, and your centrality in their lives diminishes. I’m not saying my wife and I no longer matter to them, but we matter in less visceral ways. They still come to us for tasks and counsel, and even enjoy our company occasionally, and presumably use our love to quietly buoy them without really thinking about it, but they are far more independent now.

I’m not saying that Youngest Master Weisman will follow the pattern identically, but there’s a general inevitability for which I have been preparing myself over the past year. There’s no going back, no extra innings. Starting in late August, I’ll be driving him to a bus stop if not directly to school, and we’ll still have time together, but there’s no way it will be the same.

In the short term, there’s something about being in the car, even when it’s just him and me, that sets up a thin layer of film that filters out the kind of connection delivered by the walk to school. In the long term, well, he’s going to grow up like the rest of them. He’s going to have a life, and more and more of it will be out of my reach.

This year, the walks have been also basically the last opportunity I have, after all this time, to hold my child’s hand, which is a comfort I never, ever grew tired of. By the end, even Youngest Master Weisman was trying to break me of the habit, saying he was old enough to cross a street without it, though on colder mornings he would occasionally show appreciation for the warmth of my grip. And he relented a bit today, realizing I think that it could be the last time. Still, when we let go, there was no ceremony.

I’m not trying to fight the process. I’m not looking for his adolescence to be arrested, though as I type that, it doesn’t sound all that bad. But I just have to tell you how hard it is for me that this chapter is over. Life isn’t over. But this chapter is. And it’s killing me.

I’ll get over it, but knowing that only makes me feel worse.

I have been extraordinarily lucky. To survive in this world and have the wife that I have and these three children, and enjoy the absolute privilege to be with them as much as I have been, is something I have no trouble reminding myself not to take for granted. We’re alive, and we’re together. It’s frequently challenging, especially in reigning in the bickering among the five of us in our house, and I haven’t always risen well to the occasion. I’m so fortunate to even have the opportunity to try.

But these walks have been my sanctuary. They’ve been found treasure, something that seemed idyllic enough on paper when we moved into our neighborhood with a toddler and a baby on the way in 2004, but that I could not have anticipated would mean so very much to me. They will be, as my mind forgets so many of the finer details of the past 17 years, the persistent memory.

A quarter block north, a block west (passing the neighbor’s fence that every day looked like it was about to fall down), across the major boulevard with our faithful crossing guard, one long block north, one block west, uneven sidewalks all the way, then through the crowd of parents and kids ages 5-11 onto the campus. Chatting as we go, smiling, laughing, living. And then, you say goodbye.