They're gone again.

My children, Claire and Alek, have returned to college.

Like birds, they migrate from Wayne State College (Neb.) once the weather warms up.

Then once the weather hints at turning cool, they head back.

Unlike birds, they do return sporadically in between seasons.

In between coming and going, there is a whirlwind of dirty laundry, dirty dishes and being kicked out of my man cave by my daughter.

Since my children were school-age, I have had mixed emotions about its start.

In the beginning, it was exciting to see them go off to school for the first time.

Claire is two years ahead of Alek, so he was always jealous that his "Sissy" got to go to school and he stayed home.

Of course over time, they learned there's more to school than new Crayons and new clothes.

They endured homework and early mornings, until they were college age.

They like the freedom college gives them, but like being able to come home and raid the refrigerator.

When the kids lived at home, it was nice when the final school bell rang for the year because that meant we were in full baseball mode.

We knew we didn't have to worry about getting homework done or what was going on at school, it was just baseball.

Those days are over now, and if we manage to take in a ball game, we no longer have a vested interest in one of the players.

That doesn't mean we don't enjoy the summer and having Claire and Alek home more often.

Claire has been a staple at the newspaper during the summer, and I go through withdrawals when she's not here.

She does a lot of work and keeps me company.

Alek has spent fewer days at home because he worked out of town and camped at a friend's house.

And now that he and three of his buddies have a house in Wayne, we probably won't see him much at all.

Sure, in some ways it is nice to have fewer people at home, but those are just practical reasons buying fewer groceries and less laundry.

Those don't make up for the fact I miss having them around.

Some parents look forward to school starting, but I would trade the extra time with them for the time without them any day.

There comes a times when your kids go off on their own, go to college, go to work, get married and start a family.

If all those things take them further away, your time together shrinks even more.

Alek headed to college a week before it started and said "I'll be back. I don't know when."

Claire's last day in the office was last Thursday. When Monday comes, I won't hear her flip flop clippity-clop through the door.

I already miss them.

Patrick Murphy, of Humphrey, Neb., is a former assistant managing editor of The Telegram.