It's twilight when I go outside to walk the dog. The front window blind is raised, revealing Miss 17 at my desk. A computer screen illuminates her fair skin and long, brown hair as she taps out her English assignment.
I pause to watch a scene that will likely not exist in my home on a regular basis next year. My eldest plans to attend university, preferably in a bigger city, possibly on the South Island.
It has been a year of exasperated sighs, where laughter and tears share the same space just minutes apart.
The question of "What should I do with my life?" looms like Mount Everest on the horizon, at once scary and exciting.
It's this way for many Year 13 students, judging from information gleaned from Miss 17 and her friend's parents. "Rose wants to do medicine. No, she changed her mind - now it's commerce. Or was it criminal psychology?"
My daughter isn't quite sure what she'll study. She's convinced that she must fly the nest. "It's too bad I have to leave you next year," she said recently.
"You don't have to leave," I said. "You can study here."
She laughs. As if.
Part of growing up is separating from your parents, emotionally and physically.
Psychologists call this individuation and say developing a separate identity is an important part of adolescence.
That doesn't make it any easier for parents, does it?
Being on the cusp of farewelling your first-born, even if she's only moving to Auckland or Christchurch, is bittersweet.
It's like reverse gestation. That round-headed baby with fluffy troll doll hair we brought home 17 and-a-half years ago is the same child I'll help pack and send on her way next year.
Her departure may be just eight months away, which is how long it took to carry this kid (she came early).
Looming separation colours the mood of interactions with both children. It's hard not to think about last times - the last soccer game, the last college ball...
Master 15 is so social I'll practically be an empty nester next year as he flits between friends' homes and his gaming computer.
For now, our tribe sits around the dinner table most nights and swaps stories and ideas - planning, scheming, dreaming of lucrative careers, flatting with mates and travelling.
Ever look around your home and picture it with less? Fewer occupants means fewer objects.
I spy the shoe pile near the front door and imagine a smaller pyramid. I can see the empty chair at the dining table, the bedroom with a tidy bed and a clothes-less floor.
Years ago, I remember talking with the kids' Uncle John, whose young adult children had left for university. I was already lamenting the fact that some day my four walls would house just me and the dog.
John said, "Believe me, by the time they're into their upper teens, you'll be ready for them to go. At that point, they're using your house as a hotel. They eat and sleep there, and that's it."
But it hasn't been that way with Miss 17, who inherited her late father's homebody tendencies.
Unlike her younger brother, she rarely attends parties and will happily spend a Saturday night on the sofa with me, eating pizza and watching RuPaul's Drag Race or Popstars.
Fretting about an empty nest is pointless. You know you've raised an independent soul if they leave. Also, the percentage of young people boomeranging back home is rising.
A study published last year by Victoria University showed 38 per cent of 18 to 24-year- olds reported living with one or both of their parents during lockdown.
The number rose to 40 per cent after July.
I remember conversations with my mum when I was nearly 17 and preparing to fly the coop.
I was on the cusp of becoming an exchange student, about to leave the US for Europe.
Mum told me even though it would be hard for her to have me so far away, she thought it would be a good experience - a time to build character while surrounding myself with new languages and a new culture. It was.
But watching a child move on to the next phase is one of the most painful transitions in parenthood. Knowing this helps me prioritise the here and now.
I alternate between muddling through the day's demands and cherishing sweet, small moments with the teens.
Miss 17 and I had a date night last weekend - a movie and dinner. She sometimes shadows me around the house. I call her my barnacle.
Yet this same young woman navigates the work world in her part-time job as a kitchen hand at a retirement village without me.
We should be proud if our barnacles detach themselves from the security of the mother ship.
It doesn't mean there won't be tears when they leave. Yet too much sentimentality can derail forward motion.
Carry on, young ones. You're going to be fine. And your parents - they'll survive, too.