I experienced a couple of things this past week that reminded me that no matter how much I want to keep my nieces and nephews young forever, that's just not going to happen.

First, my parents and I were invited to attend my niece Katelyn's 21st birthday. I had to come to terms with her becoming an adult when she graduated from high school and went to college, but that realization was tempered by the fact that she was going to college in Winona, just an hour away. The past few years have been wonderful and I've been able to spend some quality with her, getting to know her as an independent young woman and her hopes and dreams for her future.

Now, she's passed another one of life's milestones and she has less than a year left at college. I know she will likely find a job that will put more distance between us, and I'm sure I'll eventually come to terms with that. However, I'm surely going to cherish each moment I have with her being nearby.

While in Mankato, my brother and sister-in-law were sharing stories of Joshua's kindergarten round-up. While I conciously knew that he was 5 years old and would be going to school in the fall, hearing the stories made that concept even more real to me. As the youngest of my nieces and nephews, it seems I want to keep him as "the baby" more than the others. As he learns new things and starts using the correct pronunciation of words, I can't help but miss the cute little boy that babbled and made us laugh with his unique ways of saying things.

Later in the week I began working on a long-put-off job of sorting through photos and burning them onto CDs from my computer. I was able to relive scenes starting in 2005, which included days in the playground with my sisters children, blowing bubbles with my nephews and water fights that included the entire family.

The photos included smiles with missing teeth, arms in casts and lots of stained shirts and food-crusted hair.

Some of the photos were difficult to identify with some of the kids looking so much like their older siblings. I had to use the dates from the photos to positively identify the babies and the smiles and expressions were sometimes very similar.

I know I can't stop my beloved "kiddoes" from growing up and I know that the days I spend with them in the future will be just as special as the ones I've already shared with them, but they will be different and I have to come to terms with that.

However, looking at the photos from the past few years, one thing remains constant - the smiles on our faces are genuine and the love we feel for each other is clearly visible.