There's an endearing and annoying aspect of having a mix of older and younger kids in the home. The teenagers give their opinions, a little too freely, about the best way to parent the little people. Because they've lived through our parenting, they are full of suggestions on how they wish we had been as parents to them. We regularly hear things like, "I always loved when you..." "I really hated when you and dad..." "That never works, Mom, why do you do that?" "Why don't you try this..." "I think they would respond better if..." "Remember when you used to..." "Why didn't we ever do this..." "Remember that thing we started and never finished..."
I can't wait to repay the favor of unsolicited advice when they have children.
One particular pet peeve of my firstborn is my habit of always giving the little ones a "Ten Minutes Left to Play" warning.
"You know that ruins everything, Mom," he claims.
I have never understood his complaint. "How can it ruin everything when I'm warning you that you STILL HAVE ten minutes left to play. It's almost as though I'm reminding you to ENJOY YOUR TIME because it's almost over."
"See...that's what I hate about it, Mom," my oldest teenager says. "I used to panic when you would give us the warning. What should I do with my last ten minutes? How did my time go so fast? I don't want to be done playing. I don't think I'll be able to have a good attitude about leaving even though the time-keeper has given me the ten minute warning. Now nine minutes left. Maybe I'm down to eight. Seven. Panic. Panic. Panic. What should I do?"
I have always defended the warning, "But you always knew the fun you were having wasn't going to last forever. There was always going to be an end. I was warning you so you would enjoy those last minutes even more."
He has never relented in his complaints of this habit. "But I don't think that way, Mom. I would spend those last ten minutes in absolute dread of the end. I always wished you would have just told me at the moment it was over. No warning. Then at least I wouldn't have known that my last ten minutes were my last ten minutes."
I guess I kind of understand his point. But not enough to remove the phrase from my vocabulary.
I still have been known to give the little ones a ten minute warning even though the firstborn protests.
Since we are still in the first half of the school year, I didn't anticipate anything unusual in the mail a month or so after school started. The pile of mail always overflows from our delay in walking the 50 yards to the mailbox. How can that short walk result in such procrastination? Our small mail slot bulged with paper. Normal bills. Typical junk letters. A late birthday card for my daughter. Grocery ads. More junk mail. A postcard size flyer rested on the bottom of the mail pile almost hidden by the Price Chopper ad. I glanced quickly at the flyer on class rings and dropped it in the trash. Class rings. Not yet.
I grabbed the flyer out of the trash.
Summit Christian Academy
Class of 2017
Order Your Class Ring Today
In that second, I heard the dreaded countdown,
"You have ten minutes left to play."
Can it really be time for this stuff already?
The year my firstborn came into the world, I don't think I ever figured out his graduation year. I really have no recollection of ever focusing on that year. 2017. So far away. Some days it seemed too far away. The days crept by. The years sped on. There was a false security that time would somehow be on my side in the raising of children. That somehow I would escape my children growing up. Faster and faster the years have gone...yet there was always next year. And the next. And then you blink and the child that you thought would never sleep through the night is ordering a class ring. In that instant, there's this horrific realization that time didn't choose you as the favorite and that you will share the same fate of most mothers...you will truly have to launch the child that has filled every corner of the home with his presence out into a life of his own. The infant that was completely dependent for life grows into a young man that was created to live independently from the control and protection of his parents. He develops a mind of his own, desires of his own, and ultimately he will have a life of his own outside of the boundaries of his immediate family, and that is a very, very, VERY good thing. (Can I say it again for my heart to hear...it is a GOOD thing...a very, very, very, VERY good thing.) His job is to grow...to change...to mature...to own his faith outside of our home. That's what they are supposed to do. While always present the reality that my children won't stay under one roof forever, there's been this blissful naivete that maybe, just maybe, the year that changes the dynamics of our family won't come. Maybe we can just stay like this forever.
And then the mail arrives and in a second I get the warning, "You have ten minutes left to play."
I've spent years being the recipient of older moms stopping me (generally in the middle of a terribly embarrassing outburst by one of my children) and encouraging me that children grow up so fast...enjoy them. I've turned the corner of life and become the mom reiterating that message. I sent my cousin, who is juggling two very small children, a snapshot of the class ring postcard, "Order Your 2017 Class Ring Today." I texted her "Enjoy the seemingly never-ending days of little ones because one day you will get a postcard like this in the mail and it will be for one of yours." (I like to encourage others with discouraging thoughts.) She sent me back a picture of her two-year old holding out little hands that were completely covered in poop. Her text back read, "Is it too much to say, 'Poop on the fingers today; class ring on the finger tomorrow." Perfect.
So, what am I going to do with these "ten minutes"? I'm understanding my firstborn son a little more these days and his dislike for my warning that time is running out. Can't I just stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't coming?
The panic doesn't help spend time wisely.
The regret of years lost doesn't motivate me.
The fear of what lies ahead doesn't bring lasting hope.
And I'm far too bent on enjoying these last ten minutes to let myself grieve what hasn't happened yet. My nostalgic nature wants to throw on the sackcloth now and wallow in my sadness that my family will, my family is changing. My tendency is to hang on to the past a little longer than healthy...to turn "remembering" into a shrine of "how great life was when all my children were home" and miss the moments placed in front of me.
Our amazing, 10-2 football season just ended in the District Championship game last weekend. Following this last game, my eyes found the seniors on the team. I watched their parents watch them. After many hugs, tears, and an emotional talk given by the coach, our four seniors slowly made their way to the goalposts. They took off their helmets and just sat there for a while under the lights. Sitting side by side, they shared the endzone with one another for the last time as high school football players, while the rest of the team let them have their moments alone. My husband snuck in behind me and gave me a hug. Together, we quietly observed them. Finally, I shared my thoughts, "Do you realize this is the last time that it isn't the last time?" I let that soak in for a while. The last time it isn't the last time.
When he didn't say anything, I figured it was because he was overcome with emotion.
I was wrong. So very wrong. Instead, he looked at me completely puzzled, "What are you talking about? It's not the last time."
"Yes, but it's the last time it's not the last time." What doesn't make sense about that?
And I completely lost him with that thought. Blank stare. Clueless head shake. He gave me a little squeeze of pity and walked away to find some reasonable man to talk to...one who would talk to him about what a great season it had been and not someone who would talk about the game being the last time that it wasn't the last time. I know him well and these words waited on the tip of his tongue, "WHO THINKS THAT WAY?" UMMM...THIS CRAZY MAMA THINKS THAT WAY! He left me alone to spend my last time before the last time envisioning how I will feel when it really is the last time. I'm pretty sure he shared a chuckle with a fellow coach at my nostalgia over next year's nostalgia.
It's one thing to have moments of sadness, nostalgia, grief, fear, or uncertainty at the changes that await, but to wallow in it? To be paralyzed by it? To MISS the present thinking about the future? This is not how I want to spend these days. A friend in the same stage of life recently shared that she wants to understand, to really grasp, Proverbs 31:25 that says, "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at days to come." Her prayer is to learn and to trust that God can teach her to laugh at the days to come. To laugh even as she launches a son who has aspirations of joining the military and becoming an Army Ranger.
Yes! Yes! I want to laugh...to look forward to...to delight in what is coming next. Whatever that looks like. The thought of spending the next year and a half grieving my changing family terrifies me more than the actual thought of letting go of my son. Tears...that's fine, sadness...it will come, but I want to laugh at the hope of what God will do next trusting that even if it doesn't look like I imagined, I can still laugh with joy at the unknown.
So, how in the world does a mama who has crazy thoughts like "the last time it's not the last time" combat the numerous moments to come that will most certainly evoke great emotion? As one who loves her children at home, how do I laugh at the reality that my future days will include children growing up and not being at home?
First...thankfulness. Give thanks. Give Thanks. GIVE THANKS!! I can't stop the wave of emotion that hits regularly regarding this changing season of life, but by God's grace, I don't have to drown. The practice of giving thanks. Thankfulness crowds out dread. Thankfulness stomps on the fear. Thankfulness opens the door for laughter. When I awake in the middle of the night, wondering how in the world the kindergarten little boy sleeping down the hall will be able to be happy without the presence of his older brothers in this home, I give thanks. Thank you, Jesus, for brothers. Thank you, Jesus, for relationships that can be kept precious even from afar. Thank you, Jesus, for the gift of loving others. Thank you, Jesus, for the joy you will bring this little boy even as his brothers leave this home and the excitement he will experience when he gets to visit. Thank you, Jesus.
Second...believing God for His good. Jeremiah 29:11 was not written only for the high school graduate. The promise was given to the Israelites who were living in exile at the time. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.'" While that promise is lovely for the teenagers heading out into the world, the promise is also for me...for my husband...for our family. God has plans...and those plans extend far past this snapshot of time that I have children in the home. Those plans will unfold until I'm called to my heavenly home, and so I can believe that God's good plan for me reaches into the next seasons of life.
Finally...don't practice borrowing from tomorrow. I'm having to preach to myself not to spend much time imagining what life will be like my son's senior year. Or what does "what's next" look like? There is grace for those moments that I can't borrow when I think about it today. I can't spend too much time envisioning the changes happening in my family. There's joy for those days...even if those days happen to be hard...there's joy waiting there to be experienced. God equips us for what He calls us to do, so I have to trust the grace to live in this moment believing that the strength will be there for tomorrow...no matter how tomorrow looks. Hebrews 13:21, "May the God of peace...our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will and may He work in us, what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
It's inevitable that we will continue to feel the pressing in of time as we sit through senior advising appointments, plan college visits, and discuss plans for the future. The snowball of launching a child is picking up speed. But as I hear the warning that we only have ten minutes left to play, I can practice instantly giving thanks. Thank you, Jesus, for these precious days of preparation. Thank you, Lord, for the wisdom you will provide. Thank you, Father, for giving us grace to laugh at what's to come. I believe God for His great plans (not just for my children, but for me too!) and I'm trusting that we will be surprised by the indescribable joy that will come during the moments that I envision as the most difficult.
"She laughs at days to come..." Oh, how I want to believe God will surprise me with this treasured gift of laughter, which can be confidently based on God's omniscient/omnipresent/omnipotent character. He knows all. He sees tomorrow. He's all-powerful. Because of who God is...we can laugh.
And that's most definitely how I want to spend my last ten minutes...laughing.