Yesteday, it occurred to me that in two weeks' time, my youngest child will be off to university. Every now and then over the past few weeks, he has has provided me with reminders of this eventual day, count down style: "Mom, did you know that it's only 20 days and I will be gone?"
I am not a mom who counts down the days to when her kids leave home for school. At least not at this point, anyway. With my kids off to school, a new rhythm has begun, the "come and go" rhythm.
When our kids were small, we had routine and rhythm. At least, we had those things. We found providing routine useful for teaching kids to stay in their beds, to observe guidelines and rules. People really can be creatures of habit, sometimes, and if you don't provide a structure, you find yourself competing with your kid's chosen structure, which, when they're teenagers often means staying up until 3:00 a.m. and getting up at noon. This may not be convenient.
The "come and go" rhythm comes about whey they, as the term suggests, come home for a weekend and then go. When they arrive, after the dog goes wild, crying at their feet and running around madly, there is noise, laughter, mess, Coke cans, and serious milk consumption. When they leave, there is a kitchen full of tote bags, food stores provided by a mother who doesn't like the idea that her 20 year old son is currently living on "party mix and cookies," and laundry baskets filled with freshly laundered items. Oh yes, and then there is the depleted laundry soap phenomenon. After the departure, there are unmade beds, and untidy rooms that Mother has decided not to clean up, but closes the door to. When they arrive home again, yes, they arrive home to a messy room, but Mother has decided that if adult children want to live in a messy home, she can't do much about it, and she'd rather read or take pictures instead of micromanaging her adult children
After suitcases and foodstores leave the house, and the dog stares forlornly through the wrougt-iron fence wondering why they didn't take her with them, the silence descends over the house. It is initially a welcome silence, because part of the new rhythm involves silence, and it occasionally takes adjusting to the noise when they get home. It's welcome for a little while, but then the remaining child comes home from his friend's house, his beautiful singing voice heard throughout the house, his Fruitopia cans on the coffee table, his laptop left on the couch (and he gets really mad when his father uses it as a coaster), and his iPod and wallet left wherever. It is a reminder that the rhythm of come and go is not quite finished because he's still here. He's still coming home at the end of the day, wondering if there is anything to eat, or when I'm going to re-fill the drink stores; he's wanting to know why I haven't bought cheese yet. He's asking me questions like, "What would you do, Mom, if I tattooed my face with lizard scales?" and "Have you seen my wallet?"
In two weeks, the come and go rhythm will be complete, and he will join the others with his suitcases, need for food stores, and laundry basket. He will leave with his bed unmade -- wait, it's unmade all the time -- never mind. The silence that descends on the house on a late Sunday afternoon while kids return to their schools will not be punctuated by the sound of a boy calling out Freddie Mercury-style: "Mama!!" nor will there be a voice coming down the stairs, "Mater!?" There will be no more guitar playing, piano playing, or the sound of irritating video games from the family room. The silence will weigh a little more heavy because it will last longer.
Don't get me wrong; I know that this is the natural order of things. God, in creation, figured in seasons and rhythms. This is my season where the kids begin to take flight. It is a joyous thing in some ways, because there is satisfaction in seeing kids become independent. We rejoice to see that they take pride in being able to manage on their own. It's fun (for a while, anyway) for a young man to move in with his buddies. Yes, he does get annoyed with that one guy who eats cereal in his room before bed every night, and has to be reminded that there are others who want cereal bowls. But there is satisfaction in seeing our kids become more mature, learning to live with people who are difficult. They learn about budgeting their time and their money. My husband and I jokingly tell other parents, "Student poverty has done wonders for our kids." We don't want to stop them from growing and maturing.
When I think about that day in two weeks I wonder if I'm going to get weepy. Boys don't like weepy Mamas. When I drop that boy off at his college residence, which will be filled with a hectic frenzy of first year students, I will likely only think of the little boy who liked to crawl into bed with me early in the mornings. I will likely think of playing Yahtzee with him, teaching him to count, reading out loud to him even when he was 14 years old, because he wanted me to. I will realize that this is the kid who notices things like when I get my hair cut or I have a new sweater. I will realize that when 3:00 rolls around on September 4th, he won't be coming home.
These are hard things for a Mama who has had 3:00 as part of her rhythm for many years.
God is good, and He only gives good things. This is part of the deal I signed up for when I became a mother. As Elyse Fitzpatrick says in her book The Afternoon of Life, mothering is inherently fleeting. And of course, he won't be gone forever. He'll be back, noisy and busy as ever; as they all are. And they bring friends, too. And then the house is noisy, crowded, with shoes all over the back entrance, dirty dishes not put in the dishwasher, and socks, hoodies, and laptops everywhere. It is a blessed noise, and we welcome it. What makes it sweeter is the fact that they have been gone. This is definitely a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.
And then the house falls silent again. It's a reality God has given us, and we rejoice that we were given these children to nurture and send on their way. Other than correcting the mammoth number of mistakes I made, I wouldn't change a thing about it.