The pitter-patter of feet is back in our house.

Not the sound of tiny feet from yesteryear - the ones that once padded through our house in onesies searching for a sippy cup or Tonka truck.

These feet are full grown - the kind that belong to children who have gone off to college and returned home for the summer. They wear flip-flops and running shoes and carry wakeboards through the house.

That's right, my kids are all home for the next several weeks and moms the world over understand the kind of joy I'm feeling.

Last weekend our oldest son D.J. graduated from Texas A&M and is home for six weeks before he moves to El Paso where he will begin medical school in July. A few days before that, our son Aaron returned for the summer after completing his second year at Texas State.

Brooke, our only daughter, is finishing her junior year at Stephenville High School and is looking forward to her senior year before she heads off to college.

To say things have changed dramatically in our home the past few years is an understatement - and it's been somewhat hard for The Husband and I who always enjoyed a house full of noise.

The older I get these milestones - and rare moments of togetherness - have a different, deeper meaning.

I don't know if it's the peri-menopausal hot flashes that have me so easily reaching for the hankie these days or the fact that the older, wiser woman in me sees what the younger one could not.

But the fact is the tears come easily, especially when I reflect on the speed at which my kids' childhood whizzed by.

I remember when my sons - just 20 months apart - were both in diapers. I was a stay-at-home mom back then and can recall those times like yesterday.

Etched into my memory is the overwhelming joy I felt as a young mother - the happiness I felt when I rocked them to sleep, listened to their laughter and breathed in that dirty dog smell they had after a day in the sandbox.

We spent a lot of time reading Dr. Seuss, and I can still recite every word of "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish."

I taught them their ABCs, how to tie their shoes, ride a bike and tell time.

What I also remember about those days is that they were exhausting.

Much of my time was spent wiping butts and noses, filling juice cups and eyeing the clock for that coveted hour when the boys would take a nap.

When D.J. was five and Aaron was 3, Brooke was born, and from there things only got more hectic.

With three kids hanging from my hips, I often felt frazzled and tired, and during those moments, I was reminded by those who had already raised their families to slow down and savor their childhood.

"It will go by so fast," they would say.

But I didn't believe it.

Fast forward to now and raising them is over. It went by in the blink of an eye.

While there is still the joy of watching them venture out into the world, a part of me mourns their childhood and departure from home.

But for the next six weeks, I will revisit those days. I will do their laundry, cook nightly meals, host their friends for backyard barbecues, take a family vacation to Mexico and reacquaint myself with the laughter of having three (almost) grown children living at home for a few weeks.

Now it's my turn to tell those young mothers who are dealing with exhaustion from endless soccer, football and basketball practices, tumbling lessons, homework, birthday parties, camps, laundry and all the other joys associated with motherhood to slow down and enjoy these times because they are fleeting and will be over quicker than they will ever imagine.

Sara Vanden Berge is the managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at svandenberge@empiretribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @ETEditor.