My oldest went to her first church youth camp this weekend. I know it’s just for a weekend, but I miss her. Not just the “it’s my kid, I’m required to say that” kind of thing. But I mean, I really miss her. Getting to know your kiddo is pretty cool. I love the person she is becoming. I enjoy what comes with having older children. It is a fun and exciting time of life to have kids that are now communicating better than some adults you know and are reading books that are bigger than the books on your own nightstand. The last two years have been full of many firsts and quite a few lasts in our household.
However, parenting growing tweens has also brought with it a change for me as a mother that I hadn’t planned on. I wasn’t expecting the loneliness and isolation that came along for the ride. It is a difficult part of the journey when your children no longer need you in the ways they have always needed you in the past. It’s healthy, it’s good and I know this. But that doesn’t make it any easier. Our days of spending hours playing “tea party” and dress up and taking nature scavenger hunts have all but come to an end. It is abrupt and heart wrenching to let go in so many little different ways that I don’t even notice until they have already disappeared from my life. A sudden stillness and unusual silence settles into the weekends these days because they are usually with a friend. The dynamic has shifted and there is a new normal.
As parents, we change and we adapt because we must. It’s how we love and so, we grow right along with them and ride the wave by their side until it feels like we may drown or until we let go or they tell us to let go. Whichever happens first, I guess. And we do it because that’s real, life-giving, Christ-reflecting love. It’s hard, but it’s what we do. We love and give and love and give and we can’t help it. Because we remember those baby faces and those tiny toes. Because in the end we know one day they will go off to college and the house will be much too quiet. Because we are parents and we signed up for this – for ALL of it, even the tween and teen years. Because when we became a parent we didn’t have a list to pick and choose what parts of being a parent we wanted to be a part of and which parts we didn’t. Parenting is not a contractual agreement. Autism? ADHD? Depression? Chronic pain? Behavioral issues? Picky eaters? Tantrum throwers? Terrible Two’s? Health problems? Check. Check. Check… We signed up for all of it the day we became a parent. We don’t get a pass when there’s hardships, pain or suffering. If anything, it should keep us going further in. The best part about that is the beautiful reward for going all in is a closer bond, a deeper love and a better relationship in the end. Because love doesn’t give up. Love leans in closer when things get harder.
A few days ago, while I was shopping by myself in Target, I heard a toddler’s voice that sounded just like Chloe’s when she was a little girl and I instantly began to weep. I stood with my cart for 10 minutes trying to get myself together while the mother berated her child for something trivial. The loud hurtful words being yelled in contrast to the child’s soft sweet voice took me off guard. I was a little blindsided by my tears. They came from a place I had been silencing and ignoring for a long time. With tears still streaming down my face, I continued to hear the girls voice and the mother’s anger as I passed the baby section and the children’s section to look for coats for Chloe in the junior and adult section and it hit me in a new way that so many of our first’s and last’s with our children are over, never to be experienced again. I ached with regret, knowing that the mother was me a few times in my girl’s lives. I was the loud voice frustrated in the moment with my toddler’s behavior that seemed important at the time but now seems incredibly small and insignificant. I desperately wanted a do-over of those moments.
My girls seemed to have walked through their baby and childhood years as quickly as I had strolled through the baby and children’s section in the store. I was a mother of two in diapers just a few days ago then I took a nap, I woke up and here we are… next year I will have a 13 year old and an 11 year old. That’s really how it feels. It is as if I fell asleep and slept for several years too long. It went by so fast that some days it feels like I missed something. God, I hope and pray that I didn’t miss the important parts.
Life, indeed, is short but it’s much more than that. We only have the one. This one. As parents that means everything. We must hold our children’s faces in our hands, knowing that we really hold their hearts, their futures and their memories. We need to look them in the eyes every day and be present – living in the moment, not wasting a day or an opportunity to love. And if we are really brave, we can pray for wisdom, strength and all the grace God will grant us to cover the mistakes we have made, so that one day our children can look back on their past and see beauty growing where there once was pain.