Monday, July 27, 2015

My Year of "Lasts" -- #1 -- Last Summer Camp Send-Off

The list is about a mile long – the things I would do to improve our tiny, 50-plus year old house if time and money were unlimited. To counteract the discontent and unhappiness that might accompany the mental compiling of such a list, I start a new list: Things I love about My House. It will be no surprise to those of you who know me well that at the top of this list is the view I have from my backyard. Since the day we moved in, I have loved sitting out on the back patio every once in a while to watch the sunset. Lately, though, I have begun to feel a sense of urgency about this ritual. Something is missing on the days that I am not able to sit and savor the last few minutes of the day. There is usually no place I would rather be when dusk begins to settle in than in my patio chair with a book or my Bible in my lap. It’s become a priority. Sometimes that has meant dropping bags of groceries on the kitchen floor to be put away later. Other times it has meant postponing errands in order to be home in time to see the day slowly slip away. Up until this week, I had no idea why it had become so important for me lately to have these moments of reflection, but I knew I needed them. Now I think I am beginning to understand why . . .

I put my girl on a bus today. She is headed to Hume Lake summer camp with her beloved youth group. There is nothing unusual about this – she has gone to camp in some form or another every summer (and most winters) since the third grade.  She has never been afraid to leave the comfort and security of home and head out on new adventures. When she came home from her first week away, at the tender age of 9, she told me “A lot of kids cried because they missed their Moms. I missed you, Mom, but, no offense, I didn’t cry.”  My emotions at that time were a confusing bittersweet mixture of joy that she had the independence and confidence to be away from me, and sadness with the realization that she was going to need me less with each day that passed.

There is a predictable and comforting routine that goes along with the morning the kids leave for Hume Lake. While waiting for everyone to get checked in, students gather in decorated T-shirts they made with their small groups (at least the girls have decorated Tshirts. I guess the boys probably don’t – but I never noticed. Hey, I only have a girl, so that’s the perspective this is written from.)  J   Parents sip coffee (or Diet Coke in my case), chat, and try to snap a few pictures until the buses roll away.

What made this year’s departure unique?  It is the last year that Allison will go to “summer camp”. It is the beginning of a year of “lasts” for us as she enters into her senior year of high school.  And I am realizing how these past 17 years my heart and my life have been intricately and complicatingly involved with hers. 

So much has been written about the mother-child bond. So much about that bond cannot even begin to be put into words. After all, these human beings grow inside of us! (Or for adoptive mommies, grew in your hearts and souls and dreams until they arrived in your homes.) There is nothing like the overwhelming, scary, sacred, wonderful moment when you bring that life into the world and realize they are completely dependent on you. For everything. For their very survival. No pressure or anything.

For at least the first six to nine months, babies don’t even realize they are separate individuals from their mothers. The bond is that intense. The toddler years then become about them separating themselves and beginning to define themselves as individual human beings separate from their mothers. Individuals with a God-given destiny.

In retrospect, I realize my whole life since the day Allison was born has been about trying to make sure she has the skills and resources she needs to figure out a couple of things: who God has made her to be and how she is going to use her unique combination of gifts and abilities to make a difference in the world.  That has been my focus. With every joy and high point in these 17 years, I have celebrated and been grateful. With every difficulty and hardship, I have prayed that God would use those experiences to soften and open her heart, develop perseverance and patience in her character, and deepen her relationship with Him and her compassion for others. So the ironic thing is that as her life “work” has been about separating from me and defining herself for the past 17 years, it seems mine has become increasingly entwined with hers as I have done my best to give her everything she needs. It is a delicate dance and it is not always pretty. Sometimes I am amazed at how intensely my heart feels connected to hers. Not in a bad, enmeshed sort of way, but in a “this is what I am here for” sort of way.  I have absolutely no regrets about living my life this way for these years. Being her Mom has truly felt like the reason I was born. I am reminded of the Garth Brooks lyrics that describe a mother’s job as “making sure you’re always going to be alright.” That describes a Mom’s role better than just about anything I’ve ever heard.

I’m wondering these days whether the last few years of adolescence for a mother mimic in some ways the first few years of life for a child. Just as they as toddlers began to gradually disentwine themselves from us, it’s now time to gradually disentwine (I know, it’s not a real word) from our child’s life. My main goal these days is less and less about “making sure she’s always going to be alright”, because as I observe her on the brink of adulthood, full of anticipation and excitement and purpose, I know that she will be better than alright. She is ready to change the world in her own unique way. And the letting go, though difficult and at times painful, is mostly full of joy. It is launching her into the world, setting her free to be who her Heavenly Father created her to be.

Which brings me back to my sunsets and why perhaps it has been important for me to focus on them lately. To watch a sunset is to observe the end of a day. But inherent in a sunset is the promise of a sunrise – it is not just an ending, but the anticipation of a new beginning, a new reason to be joyful. And inherent in the sadness that the coming year of “lasts” might hold, there is so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for a daughter who has made this parenting journey so full of joy that I don’t want it to be over. Grateful for the assurance that she will still need me, though it will look different now. Grateful for Mom-friends in my life who I have had the privilege to watch do this letting go thing well – really well. And grateful for a faithful God who not only has a wonderful, exciting future ahead for my daughter, but who holds wonderful things ahead for me. That’s who He is. And that’s the promise I receive every time I watch the sunset.