“I guess this will be my last time picking apples with you guys,” he said as our family tumbled out of the minivan at the orchard.
He doesn’t know it, but I’m determined to avoid the word “last” this year. I am afraid of feeling this next stage of parenting looming upon us.
Something you anticipate for 18 years shouldn’t feel like a shock, but that is exactly how I feel when I imagine what this letting go will mean. Perhaps this change would have felt more gradual if the pandemic hadn’t taken away ordinary life for 18 months? While we were in survival mode, wondering what was going to happen next, this boy of ours continued to grow up. Coming back to normal feels like we are emerging from a game timeout, only to discover the clock has continued to tick.
Living in England beautifully supports my plan to avoid all the “lasts”. On social media, my American friends with high school seniors are posting pictures of last homecomings, football games and senior pictures colored in autumn hues. Perhaps the British are too demure to make such a fuss, or the culture is just less commemorative than the States. If we had continued living in the US, basically every moment of this year would wear the caption of “Last _____________;” that is not how it is here. There is not even a graduation ceremony at the end of this school year. He takes his exams and then it is: “So long!”
In a quiet way, this is nice. Life is ordinary and he can focus on his plans for next year. He’s been accepted to his first-choice university in the States. We are so happy for him. When visiting in February, it felt like a utopia for a young man going out into the world: amazing facilities, Division I sports, a million opportunities and a Chick-Fil-a in the cafeteria. Honestly, I am a little jealous! I know he will have fun, receive a top-notch education, and experience amazing growth.
Another mother recently told me that having her child go far from home for university would be “too much for her heart to handle.” While I have a few months to walk this out, I am asking myself, “how is my heart going to handle this?” I don’t know if a mother can prepare herself for losing the everyday moments with her child, but I know simply avoiding the word “last” while hiding my head in the sand won’t help. A good cry and some processing are in order.
Gradually, I am realizing this about fear: it isn’t wise to coddle it. Throughout the Bible, I am continually told “do not be afraid,” but I somehow keep fear at my side like a pet shrew. Imagining what might happen (aka worrying) is like stroking it and holding it close. Allowing anxiety to creep into my heart is allowing its pointy, little teeth to bite me. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7, ESV). God is saying, “I did not give you that nasty little pet, hand it over to me.” Handing over sounds simple enough, but the human heart is multifaceted and releasing fear often requires the work of sifting through where feelings originate and why they linger.
Analyzing Big Feelings
This son is a treasure to his dad and me, as are each of our children. They are individually special for a million reasons. My pregnancy with this firstborn held the first of a lifetime of trials my husband and I would walk through. When I was 28 weeks along, we learned at an ultrasound he was missing a left hand. Painting the nursery walls a cheerful yellow, I remember wishing I could stop feeling sad about my unborn baby. So many worries, so many fears, literally evaporated the moment we met him. He looked right through us with dark, gibbous eyes that said he was going to be just fine, and we knew better than to doubt this beautiful baby. When he was a toddler and we only filled our days with each other, he used to look at me like he couldn’t imagine loving me more. The feeling is mutual. Being his parents has been the most privileged seat in the house while watching him grow into a leader, a problem solver and compassionate friend. He is well loved. We have had moments darkened by bullying, culture shock, and teenage induced drama, but the better part of most days has been the best.
“You know I don’t want to leave you guys, right?” He asked me during a conversation surrounding fishing poles and how they could survive in the cargo hold of a plane.
“I think this is where I am supposed to go,” he looked to me for reassurance. I totally agree and completely understand, my boy.
Focusing on the Gain
We have intentionally raised our children to not be afraid to do something God is leading them to, no matter how scary it is. I smile to see him doing just that. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over him: “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth (and in my son’s life) as it is in Heaven. . .” To see him adventure out and follow the path God has for him is what we have been aiming for, and I must acknowledge the beauty in this.
Anticipating Good Things
Not having him live in our house and in our everyday life is a loss we cannot make an accurate account of until it transpires, but focusing on losing without looking forward to all the goodness in store would be foolish.
What God has taught me in recent years through moving away from our homeland is the paramount importance of family. I am more thankful than ever for the way He places us in families. When you move away from your life, an interesting thing transpires with relationships. Like gold shining amid floating dross, a few people stick with you when you aren’t around anymore. Some friends are golden, but all family proves to be. This boy will always be our son. No matter how many miles between us, I will always hold the place of “mom” in his world. I know this, because my parents will always be some of the most special people on the planet to me, no matter where I am. When you live far from family, the times you have are extraordinarily momentous. A commonplace moment, like a cup of tea with my mom, feels like a trip to Disney World when it is far from possible most of the time.
How will my heart survive? I will choose to focus on what is being gained for our son by this move. We will be intentional with the remaining months of “lasts.” I purpose to be filled with joy over the fact that we have these days.
“(Jesus)is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
If I have learned anything in my mothering years, it is this: I do best when I fix my eyes on Jesus. He goes before us in this next step for our boy and He will hold us (and my heart) together.