This morning I took my daughter and her friend to the high school to practice finding their way around campus before school starts. (We missed ninth grade orientation because we felt that relaxing on the beach in the Outer Banks was far more important.) Lovey is attending my alma mater so I smugly thought I might be able to help the girls find their way around. Ha! The campus is enormous and looks nothing like the high school I attended almost twenty-five years ago. It has been remodeled and expanded into a cumbersome beast. I laughed out loud when I first heard that students had ten minutes to get from class to class. The funniness quickly evaporated when we started working through the girls’ schedules. They walk from one end of campus to the other about three times a day. We timed the longest distance and it took seven minutes! I’m almost positive we walked ten miles during the two practice runs we performed. The dripping sweat and shortness of breath were proof, I swear.
Something unexpected happened to me during our scavenger hunt. I had a sudden heart squeezing, breath stealing revelation that my daughter, my baby girl, was headed to HIGH SCHOOL in just a few short days. The next four years flashed quickly before my eyes. Soon, she’ll be fifteen, which, of course, is followed by sixteen. Next, she’ll be driving and working part-time and picking out a college. Just a blink after that will be graduation and then she’ll be heading into the great wide open, leaving her father and me in the dust. I almost had a panic attack right there in front of room 304, where Lovey will spend a chunk of time every day learning about American history and growing up without my knowledge or permission.
This realization is just the latest in a series that I have been struggling to make sense of. It started about a month ago when I took my middle son, Buddy(who is twelve), to a friend’s house for the afternoon. I hadn’t seen this friend since the end of school. When Buddy knocked on the door, a good-looking young man answered. And then I realized this young man was Buddy’s friend! In the span of two months the kid had grown several inches, dyed his hair blonde, and sprouted facial hair. In shock, I reflexively looked at Buddy – who was even taller and had broader shoulders and a deeper voice!! When did that happen? How was it that my son was turning into a man before my very eyes and I couldn’t see it? The drive home was a blur of disbelief and confusion.
Then, in August, my youngest son turned ten. He has been around for an entire decade and is now an official tweener. This is my true baby – my youngest. The truth has been difficult to digest. I no longer have any little kids. Just big ones. And these big kids seem to need me less and less. Lately, I’ve had this incredible desire to freeze time. I want everyone to stop growing and changing for a bit so I can catch my breath. I want to tell my kids to slow down with the growing up process because I’m not ready to let go. Unfortunately, it’s out of their hands – and mine.
Not being needed by my kids is scary. And letting go of the people I’ve poured so much of my life into is also very unsettling. In saner moments, when I’m not being tackled by reality, I recognize that not being needed and letting go are the ultimate goals of parenting. I want to raise children who are capable, independent, and self-sufficient. Doing my job well as a Mom means eventually putting myself out of business. As hard as that is to swallow at this moment, I know it is the truth. I guess I just wasn’t prepared for how quickly the time would fly by and how soon I would be faced with the letting go process.
I somehow manged to stave off a full-blown meltdown this morning. Perhaps I was successful because after the first scary realization, two other far more pleasant realizations followed. Just because my daughter was becoming a young woman doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need me. She just needs me in a different way. Instead of a caretaker, she needs me to be her safety net as she explores the big bad world and her place in it. I will be moving from hands-on parenting to behind the scenes support and guidance. With Lovey, that shift has been going on for a while now – whether I recognize it or not. Occasionally, she shows us glimpses of her adult self and I’m always incredibly amazed and proud at what I see.
I can feel it starting with Buddy, too. I dropped him off for the first night of seventh and eighth grade football practice. Neither one of us really knew what to expect and I could tell he was nervous. At first, he asked me to stay. I even offered to check in with the coach for him. When we got to the school, he changed his mind and told me he’d be fine and that I should go home. It was very hard for me to watch him walk into the unknown, but he was right. He needed to do it himself. The shift was starting. (Thank goodness I get a reprieve with Ace. He may be a decade old but he still needs me.)
The second nugget of truth I gleaned from this experience is that time is stealthy and passes by when we aren’t looking. I need to be very deliberate in spending time with my kids because I won’t have them to myself forever. When Lovey, Buddy, and Ace were small I felt like changing diapers, wiping faces, and scrubbing high chairs would be my fate for eternity. It wasn’t. It passed in the blink of an eye. I don’t want to miss out on what is going on with my children right now because I’m too busy or preoccupied. This season won’t last forever either. Time is precious when it comes to growing kids and I needed the reminder that I don’t want to miss one single moment of it.