“Well, this is it Mom.” Her hair blew her over her face as the warm wind passed over her tanned armed into the car. “The last stretch. Two more months of high school and that’s it.” Immediately my throat tightened and I bit my lower lip. I knew this was coming. Spring break in Costa Rica was a trip we’d been planning for a year and it was to serve as a celebration of her journey to graduation – all of the years of hard work and diligence. It gave us something to look forward to, to plan for, to hold as the event before the event. Now, the trip was ending and the other event left is the one that will push her out our door and into the world. Inside my head I started to chant, “don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.” Too late. Giant tears began sliding down my cheeks.
How could they not? This is the child who made me a mother. There is something about the firstborn. God knows they need to be made of something special because we cut our parenting teeth on them. We make all of our mistakes on them, and we love them at times to points of suffocation. Because they are first. Every stage we enter we’ve never experienced before, and every high and low pierces the most tender places. They are our hearts walking and dancing through the world and we hardly know what to do with that. With the children that follow we still feel for them just as deeply, but we have experience to lean on, and that makes us able to ride through the storms of parenting with a stronger stroke. I often prayed, and still do, “Lord, you knew she would be our first. Fill in our gaps.”
I’ve never launched a child beyond our home. I don’t know how to do this. Because everything in me wants to grab her with the same ferocity with which I did when they laid her in my arms in the hospital. It feels so unnatural to let go. And not only does it feel unnatural, I feel as if my heart might break into a thousand pieces and never be put back together again.
People tell me that it will be okay. That our relationship will be even better as adults. I believe them, I do, but life will never be quite the same. Our home will never look as it does now – with all four kids sitting nightly around the dinner table, and sharing dish duty as they blast their latest Spotify list. It’s not that we do anything really special from day to day, but we are together, and have been for the last eighteen years. That’s 157,680 hours. While we haven’t been together for all of that time, we have been for most of it. And I’ve loved it.
Looking back, I see that the ordinary investment of life in the mundane was in fact the bricks that built the strength of my relationship with my daughter.
It was the hours of “cooking with Kenna” – a time set aside for us to be in the kitchen each week. We’d put on our aprons and she’d stir and carefully measure ingredients, even one time accidentally substituting salt for sugar. It was at soccer practice as I blew the whistle while the girls dribbled through cones. Her eyes would lock into mine, wondering if she was doing it right. It was the hours of skiing in a wedge position leaned over until my back and legs burned so that she could gain the confidence she needed to go alone. It was the time spent over breakfast of reading and prayer, daily coming to God together and seeking His guidance in the small and the big. It was having “the talk” on a mountainside, sitting on the side of the field game after game after game, dancing together in the kitchen, shopping for the first homecoming dress, walking to the store at the lake for ice cream, clapping in the crowd as she received awards, and entering into long and hard talks about technology and growing up. It is the sum total of all of it. This is the house we have built.
And while that house will stand, it will change. And maybe that’s why this is so hard. Because transitions can be crushing. But I believe we all have a choice to make in the midst of change: fight it or use it for good.
In his book, Create Vs. Copy, Ken Wytsma interviews Keith Wright, CEO of Thrive Global. He describes how Keith has used change as his ally rather than his enemy. When asked the question, “what’s the secret to surviving change?” Wright says,
“Innovation. Yesterday’s solutions already don’t work. The first step of innovation is hitting refresh on all of your assumptions, and if you fail to do that, you become outmoded (old-fashioned) quickly…. What I’m trying to say is, pay attention, be humble about what you think you know, and be ready to change the way you think, operate, and view the world. “
Embracing change means becoming an innovator. Though it is healthy and good for me to grieve the end of this era with our family (which I’m excelling at), it is also healthy and good for me to start thinking and acting with creativity and innovation. Change is often a doorway to new adventures.
So I guess Kenna isn’t the only one about to embark on a new adventure. Make no mistake, I will stand at the door and wave goodbye to this part of our lives until she is no longer in sight, but after I let the tears spill over into giant puddles at my feet and sit on the porch for a good long time, I will get up, close the door, and start searching for my new trail map.