He was an older dad, probably in his early 40s, pushing a stroller with a 3- or 4-year-old boy toddling alongside. They were walking along the river in Pullman on a sunny day last week, laughing and singing.

I was riding my bike in the opposite direction.

“Good day for a field trip,” I called out.

“It sure is,” the dad replied, a wide smile splitting his face. Looking back over my shoulder, I could almost see myself 12 years ago.

Back then, I spent a lot of time pushing strollers and towing kids around in bike trailers. I was that guy.

Just like Rip van Winkle, I was struck by how much my life has changed in what feels like a heartbeat. My two children, both daughters, are teenagers now. They are unrecognizable from the kids I used to push around in a stroller.

My youngest is more than halfway through middle school. My oldest has completed her driver’s education and is dropping not-so-subtle hints about getting a car of her own.

And our mailbox is jammed with college recruitment brochures. Seattle University. Brown University. Carleton College. The University of Chicago ...

The day is coming when they’ll both be out of the house and my wife and I will look at one another and ask, “Where did the time go?”

Neither of us grew up in Pullman, so this is just another stop on our journey of life. It’s different for our kids though, because they were born here, they’re growing up here, and they will always be from here.

They are of this place. These rolling hills, these creeks and rivers, these land-grant universities, and distant glimpses of America as it used to be.

On the whole, this is a pretty good place to spend one’s formative years. My kids have strong peer groups, with friends who push each other academically, and there’s a real vitality in the air around them.

Though they’re beginning to resemble adults, my kids are like teenagers anywhere, still a bubbling stew of confidence and insecurity, certitude leavened with apprehension.

One minute, they are breathing fire and radiating competence. The next minute, they’re a jittery bundle of nerves. And back, and forth. And back again.

As a parent, I’m little more than a spectator as their young years play out. I cannot shield them from setbacks, nor can I take any credit for their successes.

Instead, my wife and I watch, as if backstage at a theater, as our kids wobble at first, then stride with increasing confidence toward their future. It’s a bittersweet thing, because increased self-reliance from them means less reliance on us.

And what is being a parent if it’s not being needed?

As they venture further afield, my kids are learning there are many ways to lead a human life. As they gain more experience, they gain understanding.

They watch as family pets mature from frisky kittens into tired old cats. Now and then, a family pet dies. Now and then, a grandparent slowly withers away, or a cousin perishes unexpectedly.

As the years go passing by, our kids are beginning to grasp the rhythms of life. It’s a lot like staring at the minute hand of a clock: If you pay attention long enough, you can actually see it moving.

My wife and I still have a couple of years with both kids at home, so there are plenty of highs — and lows — to come. Meanwhile, there’s a wistfulness that’s beginning to settle into our household.

As my wife and I struggle to hang onto what we’ve got, our kids are looking out the window, their hands pushing on the door. They are eager to get going, to bust out of this little burg, to start living life on their terms.

The energy is building. They can feel it.

Lift-off is just ahead.

After years of collecting passport stamps,William Brock ran aground in Pullman in 2001.

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