Sometimes when I find a penny I feel like it’s for someone else not me. Twice this week that was the case and with each one I wanted to give it to the other mother involved rather than keep it. It’s back-to-school season and what I know from experience is that the sight of school supplies and backpacks can be bittersweet for moms. On one end of the spectrum you have nervous moms sending their little ones off to kindergarten and on the other moms waking up to an empty nest.
The first penny I found near a woman negotiating the purchase of new shoes with her daughter. The girl wanted high-tops and the mom refused launching a full scale battle of soles. While I picked up the penny I resisted the temptation to say, “Go with the high-tops mom and make your life easier. Trust me this isn’t a battle worth fighting.”
The next find came as I was walking and reading a girlfriend’s text message about waking up on her first morning as an empty-nester. My heart ached for her when I reached down to pocket the penny I’d spotted. I immediately thought she needed it more than I did. I know for this Super Mom the silence in her home is deafening. She’s thrilled for her boys but misses them. How did the time fly by? Wasn’t it just yesterday she was loading them on the school bus telling them she loved them?
Ironically, with five years old you can’t wait to get them out of the house so you can breathe for a few hours. However, what you find for the first few weeks is that you’re constantly holding your breath while imagining every possible thing that could go wrong. There’s suddenly no doubt in your mind that your child’s aversion to sticky things is going to rear its ugly head when the glue sticks come out and land them in the principal’s office. Irrational thoughts about a glue meltdown are suddenly stuck in your brain for the morning.
For the mom’s with the last duckling leaving the nest the prospect of less mess seems appealing but by the end of the first week you’re going through laundry withdrawals. You’re desperately resisting the temptation to send hourly text messages and you’d volunteer to do even their roommates laundry if they came home for the weekend. Now you don’t want fewer children around your house you want a crowd.
For both mothers it’s a challenging time emotionally because letting go is a leap of faith. Trusting God through the uncertainty of it all feels like you’re walking on a knife edge. It hurts. While I don’t know what it’s like to pack your kid up and move them out of house for college I remember loading my kiddos up for their first days of school. I worried more than I like to admit about silly things like their shoes and now they could leave the house with slippers on and I wouldn’t care. Shoes are the least of my concerns.
This morning reading through Chase’s IEP for high school I got dizzy. Things like post secondary education/training, employment goals, and independent living skills goals are enough to make any mother faint on a hot August morning. You long for the days when you actually agonized about them eating what you packed in their lunchbox. Now the bigger concern is figuring out how one day they will be gainfully employed so they can buy a lunch independent of your pocketbook.
Equipping your children for life on the outside while they’re still at home can be a trying experience but at least its hands on. You’re still a part of their life in a tangible way which is comforting. Even with a fairly independent teenager you can say, “Get to bed you have a test in the morning!” Once you let them fly away your influence is limited. They can stay up until all hours of the night watching reality television and miss class or work the next day and your clueless to it. Before you know it they could be flunking out of school or unemployed. Where at home they had only enough rope to get a rope burn, now on their own they could tie themselves up in a mess of knots if they wanted to. It’s hard to even think about it.
Still, both sides of the spectrum are hard for mothers. When you’re a young mother you think kindergarten is high stakes because your children are leaving home for the first time. When you’re a mother of young adults you realize your kids are leaving home for the last time. Both scenarios tug at your heart because in each case you have to accept your limitations as a parent and let go. Unconditional love for our children requires it.
Fortunately, God understands our sense of being limited. He faces the same thing daily as a parent. Like us God both delights in His children and suffers over them. He worries when we step out away from Him and yet He knows growth can only come in our lives if He allows us this freedom. Because God is the first empty nester He can identify with our anguish more than we acknowledge.
Remembering this, I think it’s safe to say we can go to Him unashamedly with our worries as our children venture off. His ear will be sympathetic. He wants nothing more than to put His arm around us and sympathize. He wants to bear the burden with us. God welcomes the opportunity to cry with us when we cry and laugh with us when we laugh. He’s willing to stay up all night with us while every irrational thought goes through our mind. I also believe He’s blessed at these times when we turn to Him knowing that now we are more aware of how He suffers for us. It’s a relationship builder and God desires nothing more than this kind of connection with us.
I can’t go back and find the lady I found the first penny near to give her a pep talk but for my girlfriend I’ve got a penny to remind her God is with her in her very quiet home and will carry her through this season of change in her life. I hope it will mean something to her. Pennies aren’t her thing but I think she’ll get it. I also hope when my boys leave the nest, which is right around the corner, she’ll return it because Lord knows I’ll need it. I’m not ready for that day but Lord willing I will survive it just like every other mom who has gone before me.
“Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
P.S. I don’t know what he plans to wear for his first day of high school but I’m certain Chase won’t be making the same kind of fashion statement he did when he went off to kindergarten.