When I was little, I would play “house” all the time. I’d have my dolls and my imagination to set the scene. I would carry my babies from room to room, rocking them, “feeding” them, and taking them for walks in the stroller.

When I grew up, my own little girl played “house”, too, except she called it “babies.” As our only daughter, she had multitudes of baby dolls. She would care for them, feed them, carry them, rock them, and make sure all her babies were well loved.

Whether you call it “house” or you call it “babies” it has occurred to me that little girls never pretend to be the mother of teenagers. They never pretend to be mommies of children who are off to college or starting new lives of their own.

As a child, I don’t think I ever imagined what this stage of life would be like. Never in my wildest imagining could I have imagined how crazy and wonderful this time of life could be. Yet it is.

My children are all “older” now and for the most part, on their own. One is back east working as a teacher. Two more are away at college. Our only daughter is home but in college and getting married next year. They are not “babies” anymore.

And while there are probably no little girls in the world who would put aside their baby dolls to play “Life in the Corsaro Family,” it is the life we are living. And it is a life I have grown to cherish.

I loved having babies. I really did. Babies are demanding but they are also so soft, so sweet, and so fresh-from-heaven adorable. There is nothing like rocking a new baby. But time passed and those baby years gave way to toddler years.

Toddlers are so cute. So full of energy, so loving, so brutally honest, and so … completely exhausting! There was many a day I would have given everything I owned for one hour of uninterrupted quiet!

Then they started school. There was homework and spelling tests and endless conversations about how “Mrs. Blunt says”… (or whoever the teacher was). I suppose I could have felt like I had taken a back seat to Mrs. Blunt, the beloved kindergarten (or current grade) teacher. But I never felt like that. I loved seeing who my children were becoming, on their own, even without me.

My children began to tell “jokes” that were anything but funny, that we laughed at anyway. My husband and I would have many late-night conversations about, “Was THAT the punchline?” “Did we miss something??”

Grade school years passed quickly and before I knew it, the kids began high school. There were games to watch, plays to see, and speeches to hear. I realized that suddenly the endless “Knock-Knock” jokes had become jokes and stories that were actually funny. At times, the stories shared were gut-wrenching. Our children had opinions and talents that were completely their own. They told us stories that made us laugh. And they told us stories that made us cry.

Sometimes, when I see brand new parents with their babies, I feel a tug at my heart. Those are precious, never-to-be-lived again days. Like every other family, a brand new family will one day juggle schedules and carpools and missing baseball mitts. They will worry about budget and books. They will seek that elusive “balance” between work and leisure.

For a brief time, though, new parents are granted the great gift of seeing clearly that the only important thing is right before them.

Recently, our youngest son was cast in a series of “One Act” plays at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. He knew our money was tight. He knew we would be making the four-hour drive a week later to pick him up anyway. He knew I had report cards due the next week.

So being the good son that he is, he said, “It’s okay, Mom and Dad. You don’t need to come see me.” And I knew we didn’t need to go.

But then, a few nights later, I heard on the news that several parents were notified with the most tragic news any parent could ever hear: their children were dead. In a senseless rampage killing in Isla Vista, young men and women lost their lives. I called all my children on the phone. I knew none of them were in Isla Vista, but I still needed to hear their voices.

I knew that the parents of the victims of the Isla Vista killings would give anything in the world to see their children one more time. And I knew we had to go to see our son.

And so we did.

It was an unforgettable weekend filled with laughter and tears, meeting my son’s friends, and spending time with him. A weekend of thanking God for the incredible gift He gave to us when He called us to be parents.

For a brief time, we were given that precious gift that new parents are given. Once again we were able to see clearly that the most important thing in the world was right there before us.

I doubt any little girl will ever play “house” by acting out visiting her “baby” in college. I guess that’s because no little girl could ever imagine — no new mother could ever imagine — just how wonderful and special this time of life could be. Yet it is, if you can only stop long enough to cherish it.

You may not ever dream about it. You may not even try to imagine it. But when it comes, it may turn out to be the most wonderful moments of your life. More than you had ever hoped for, even more than you had ever dreamed of.

And without a doubt, the only thing that is truly important.

Therese C. Corsaro teaches at St. Mary School, Palmdale.