I’m not ready. That is the refrain that is running through my brain in an endless loop.
Photo by J. Sadoff
The year is 1999. It is August and I am preparing a nursery for my unborn child who will arrive in November. I don’t know whether this little person who loves to turn somersaults in my belly will be a boy or a girl. I don’t really know what to expect, despite religiously devouring my What to Expect The First Year book. What I do know is that I love this tiny being fiercely, even though we’ve not officially met. And I’m not ready for motherhood quite yet.
I spent the last month of that summer 19 years ago creating a haven for my baby. The nesting instinct was strong for both my husband and I. We decided to paint the walls a pale aqua and decorate with tropical fish. Those bright colors would be cheerful and stimulating for our little one. And the theme was gender-neutral because we wanted a surprise in the delivery room.
We bought a beautiful crib and special wedges to keep him safe inside it. We shopped for a wipes warmer, a diaper genie, and a cushy changing pad with a buckle. Tiny clothes and special detergent to clean them found their way into my shopping cart at Target. We believed somehow that having the stuff to care for him would give us the ability to do the job better.
When my water broke the evening after my due date, I was so excited to finally meet our newborn! I may not have known exactly what to expect, but I was ready. Or at least as ready as I could be to jump into the unknowns of parenting. Our son arrived the next morning amidst tears of joy. Two short days later the hospital sent us home. My husband and I looked at each other warily as we buckled in with our seat belts for the ride home: the magnitude of responsibility of parenthood just beginning to sink in.
Fast forward 18 and a half years.
As the years fly by you’ll see a blur of laughter, tears, tantrums, a friendship, the arrival of twin sisters. You’ll see a painfully shy little boy. Then a move, legos, new friendships, baseball, and school. Family vacations, family visits, more friendships, forts, and always more legos. On to middle school, an amazing sense of humor, a few broken bones, fewer legos but more baseball, a growth in confidence. Next there’s high school, girl friends, driving, family dinners, travel baseball, high school baseball. The growth of a close group of friends, a heartbreak, some bad decisions, some dark days followed by some amazing ones. Next came college acceptances, a big decision, and graduation with the highest honors.
And throughout it all, so much love.
The year is now 2018. It is August and I am preparing for a new home for this young man. The nesting instinct has returned in full force. I feel a desperate need to ensure that his bed will be comfortable. The colors of choice are now red and black of his university. I fill the aching void that is already forming inside me with shopping trips with him for a new suit. For organizers, cleaning supplies, an iron, an umbrella, and luggage. The trappings of the life of an adult.
I try to pretend that somehow I can be ready for sending my son to college by making sure he has the stuff he needs.
I feel tears fill my eyes daily and a lump often rises in my throat that makes breathing hard. On occasion, I wake from a dream of him as a boy with tears running down my cheeks at night.
Every hug feels too short.
When he sits beside me during the evening to have his back scratched, he stands up again too soon.
I worry that I’ve forgotten to teach him something vitally important.
I try to make all his favorite meals in anticipation of his leaving. And buy a meaningful gift to remind him that this home where he grew up will always be open to him. I write him a letter reminding him how much he is loved and how proud I am of him and how excited I am for him: careful to keep my tone upbeat and my tears from falling onto the page.
I’m still not ready.
However, when I look at the strong, confident, loving, funny young man who bounds through our door when he returns from work, or a trip of a lifetime driving up the east coast with his two best friends, who sits beside me at dinners, I can see that he is ready.
Photo by C. Zucker
We didn’t really know what we were doing during those years of raising that baby to become a man. He was our guinea pig for parenting! Sometimes we were probably too strict. A few times we were likely too lenient. We made some mistakes, but we also got a lot right. There were numerous prayers to get through some of the days and a few of those nights. We all shed some tears along the way. And while he was a challenging baby, toddler, pre-schooler and young boy, he became a confident and funny tween and teen.
We aren’t really sure what to expect as we let go and send him out into the world.
But. He is secure in knowing that we are always here for him, unwavering. It reminds me of how God is our unwavering strength: always there for us in the joys and in the struggles. A friend of mine recently shared an article with me about trusting God in the next phase of your child’s life that really resonated with me. (Ironically, AnnMarie sent me the same article about an hour later. I think God wanted to make sure I really got this message!) It reminded me that Jesus likely felt the same emotions that I am and that my job as a parent is to ultimately let him go, even though it hurts. My son has always belonged first to God, and it is time to “put his basket in the water.”
I may not be ready to say goodbye to this chapter in his life, but it is time for his next chapter to begin.