I was totally unprepared for the maternal instinct that would hold me hostage after I had my first baby.
I was just tootling along in life, enjoying and enduring the pregnancy thing for nine months when this tiny baby entered our lives, giving me no clue as to how much that everything she did would overtake my world with such tenacity!
She slept and we took pictures! She burped and we took pictures! She smiled and we told the whole world and…took pictures!
I can remember two weeks after she was born, putting her in a little newborn outfit and realizing that already, it was starting to get snug! What? Wait a minute! Stop!!! I am loving and basking in this newborn season, can we just slow down a bit?
Little did I know that I could not slow this growing up thing down no matter how much I willed it to be.
I could see that those first months of waking up to a cooing infant, smiling in her crib, the smell of baby lotion on fresh, pink skin and even the more unpleasant scents that invaded our home, would be quickly gone and all we would have would be memories.
First it was clothes that she outgrew, then it was the little bleating, lamb-like, newborn cry that was exchanged for a heartier one. Next it was rolling over, crawling, walking, talking and it continued on and on, as I frantically tried to keep up!
New babies were added to the family and I had to hit the ‘repeat’ button only to find that the ‘pause’ was broken for the previous ones and ‘fast forward’ was on constant play.
Every year of their lives brought new ceremonies of endings. We barely started them in a new venture before they were graduating from something. Awana Cubbies, Story Hour, soccer, baseball, piano lessons, another grade, another class.
Then came the year of the Senior.
I knew it was coming. I had braced myself. In all the busyness, I breathed in every conversation, cherished every bit of family time because I knew that once she was gone, our family would never be the same.
Following her, would come the others one by one, until the last one would fly from the nest.
I remember the family vacation when we all were in the van together for one final trip as just us. It was a special memory and I fought tears back on the way home as I knew that we were headed into a new season and this one was coming to an end.
I smile when I reflect on the fact that it wasn’t all sentimental. God has a way of surfacing the reality and moving us forward.
There were those moments when I realized that it was time for them to move on. Too many independent people living in the same house, under the same roof doesn’t work well when two of them have been used to people being dependent. It is time to let them go and this is what we have been preparing them for.
The whole goal of parenting is to let the leash out more and more, further and further until they are finally ready to be taken off. When that day comes, they need to run, fly or take whatever route is necessary to move them forward in life. To not let that happen would be to handicap them.
So we do what thousands of other parents have done for generations. We send them off to college or to a life of their own and say our ‘goodbyes’. We will see their excitement, yet apprehension, as they too, face their own fears, reflections and emotions.
With our firstborn, we all drove as a family to drop her off at her college four hours away.
After settling her in, we walked into the hallway of her dorm, only to find a new freshman on the verge of tears. I asked if she needed a ‘mom’ hug and she accepted.
I then hugged my own, held back the tears (or maybe not!) and forced myself out of the door and into the van which would carry our family minus one, back to the new normal.
We drove off, leaving our daughter with complete strangers and all the supplies we could think of to help her survive.
We found though, that it wasn’t the end. It was just a new beginning for her, for us and for the rest of our children who followed in her steps.
As we grieve those ‘caregiver’ years, we begin to reap the rewards when we see them move forward into life, taking tools we have given them as well as even better ones that they have picked up in the process.
It is a joy to see them become adults and contributors. They bring new people into our world and begin to pursue interests that may reflect some of our own, but also different ones that are uniquely theirs.
That is when we realize that we have lost nothing except seasons that had their time, only to have moved forward into increasingly expanding ones as we continue to make memories to store in the archives of our minds.
The relationships are never lost but changed, enhanced and matured as we learn to relate to them not as ‘children’ but as adults.
It will never be the same again, but if we are wise, we will recognize that we really wouldn’t want it any other way.