As I walk past my son’s empty bedroom this morning, I think to myself, “I’m going to have to get used to this.” The lump in my throat returns, and my eyes well up. Bobby’s been gone from home less than forty-eight hours, but it feels much longer than that, probably because I know that this time he’ll be gone much longer than ever. Before I became a mother, I had no idea how deep and conflicting the warring emotions of motherhood can be—that our hearts can be bursting with pride while at the same time breaking as another season of our child’s life changes. Each season is never as long as we think it will be, and sometimes we need to weep at the end one before we can fully embrace the next.
From a very early age, Bobby has wanted to join the United States Air Force. He wanted to be a pilot, which was hilarious because he was terrified of heights. The thought of my precious boy in the military and potentially fighting in a war petrified me. I’d silently hoped that he would change his mind, but he didn’t. As the end of his high school years approached, he explored many other options, but no option appealed to him as much as serving his country in the Air Force. So yesterday we proudly watched our oldest son take his oath, sign his four-year contract, and leave for basic training.
Four years. I try to imagine what my life will look like in four years. In four years my oldest child will be thirty-three and my youngest will be learning to drive. My oldest granddaughter will be ten! All these realizations race through my head as I contemplate how quickly life changes. No matter how much I might want to turn back the clock and slow down the time as my children grow up, life goes on.
With my first child, I couldn’t wait for her to reach the next milestone. I couldn’t wait to see her roll over, crawl, or walk. I couldn’t wait for her to talk and learn to ride a bike just because there was nothing I loved more than seeing her succeed in new things. But then when my second child was born, I looked at my five-year-old daughter and realized that I had been wishing away her childhood.
It’s so easy as a mother to get caught up in the business of motherhood. Many days when my children were younger, I barely survived let alone thrived. As I look back with the wisdom that can only come from standing on the other side of our children’s childhood, I wonder why I didn’t focus more on the joy of being a parent instead of worrying how I could have one kid to soccer practice at the same time that another one needed to be at piano lessons and somehow make dinner for the family.
There were times however, when I would get caught up in a particularly incredible moment with one of my children and wish that they could stay in this stage for longer. I would dread when they would leave the innocence of being a nine-year-old and become back-talking teenagers. I would think, “I love this stage best,” only to realize that the next stage was great too. As much as I dreaded my children reaching adulthood, I’m finding that being a parent to my adult children is indeed wonderful. As parents we often focus on our mistakes and shortcomings, so when we witness the fruits of our labor and realize that we raised extraordinary adults, it is truly satisfying. That transition time, right before one of my kids leave home and then right after is particularly heartbreaking. But heartbreaking endings make way for beautiful beginnings.
Yesterday, as Bobby rounded the corner and hurried down the hallway to catch the bus that would take him to the airport, I looked into the face of my boy. “I’ve got to catch up with the Marines and ride with them,” he said as he passed us. I started to leave, but turned for one more look only to find that my boy was gone, and in his place, walked the man I raised.