September snuck in last weekend while I was busy sorting through the fall clothing bins, determining which shirts no longer covered their assigned tummies and which pants failed to hide an acceptable margin of ankle and sock. It crept in unnoticed somewhere between the flurry of pencil box assembly and the hourly stalking of the school website as 3 anxious children and 1 eager mother waited on a teacher’s name that would set the next nine months in motion.
It was a good summer. Great, actually. Yet different. Full of late-waking days when I’d come downstairs to find the kids eating Cheerios in the living room while watching old Looney Tune shows. And late-lingering nights of pressing marshmallows onto sticks around the campfire at Grammy’s house or watching from the comfort of a nearby bench as our now-tall-enough offspring rode the boardwalk rides by themselves. They went tubing in the bay and strode into the breakers with their boogie boards, this year without a single request for us to accompany them into the water. They cast their own lines when fishing with Grandpa at the lake and at the riding stables, raced to climb on a giant Fresian mare that gave me pause, without so much as a blink.
The difference, I’ve come to realize as I look back over the last few months, is that I’m a lot less necessary in ways I’ve been very necessary before. And isn’t it funny that I feel both happy and sad about that realization? Happy that I can reclaim a little of the space in my brain and body that has been designated to 24/7 child rearing for the last 8 years. And sad that the sweet clinging leaves of this season are already starting to yellow. As a mother of triplets, I’ve always quietly grieved the fleet passing of each stage, knowing that I wouldn’t have the chance to revisit or revise it on a second swing through. And that’s why I relish the moments when just a little bit of neediness resurfaces.
This was also the summer of learning to ride our bikes. Without the training wheels. I say that with a cringe because not too many 8 year-olds haven’t checked that off their can-do lists. And it was getting kind of embarrassing to have 3 in the same house who still rode around on glorified tricycles. Which is why I insisted that by the time the school bus pulled up, we would be self-sufficient on our bikes.
We nearly reached our goal. 2 of the kids mastered their skills within a week. I was actually surprised at how quickly they picked it up and how few scrapes were required before they could confidently ride around the cul-de-sac on their own. But anyone who has spent any amount of time with our family knows which child has yet to spread his wings down the street. In typical fashion, Josh must figure everything out in his head long before he decides to transfer that knowledge to his body. It’s been that way from the day we brought him home in a flailing blue bundle. I imagine it will likely be that way as we’re packing him up for college.
On that covert September day, sunny and blue-skied with the sound of cricket white noise fanning about the yard, I decided to give it one more try. Perhaps like a baby wren who spends days at the edge of the nest and then suddenly and simply flies away, Josh might also simply pedal off as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. I cajoled him outside with the promise of a popsicle should he make a strong effort on his bike, agreeing to keep a constant hand on his shoulder as we circled around the end of the street. As he took those tentative strides on the pedals and wobbled too close to the mailboxes across the street, he looked back, eyes wide and worried that my hand wasn’t where I had promised it would be. Dragging his feet along the pavement, he brought the bike to an inelegant stop.
“Mom, is your hand on me? I’m not ready for the letting go day.” His eyes searched mine for assurance, unwilling to make another attempt until he fully trusted that I would be his safety net.
“Yes, sweetheart. My hand is on your shoulder. I’ll help you to keep going straight.” I had to resist the urge to make a ridiculous scene by scooping him into my arms like I would have when, as a toddler, he melted my heart every time he asked, "Mommy, will you always be wif me?"
I settled instead for a deep inhale of happiness, realizing that my time as necessary presence in their lives hadn’t wound so far down. We pedaled on for a few more minutes and ended with a confident smile at the top of the driveway. Josh ran off to pick his popsicle and I lingered behind. Perhaps the next time I’d set my third fledgling free.
It’s hard business, this letting go. And practice makes me anything but perfect. It doesn’t matter if it’s off the diving board or off to a friend’s house for a sleepover. It doesn’t even matter if it’s something right here at home within the boundaries of my purview. Seeing them pour their own milk or make their own beds is a simultaneously thrilling and wounding experience for me, one which I must daily choose to treat as a treasured privilege.
And so the letting go days come faster and faster. This year there was no hesitating at the drop off line on the first day of school and I’m no longer allowed to walk the ballplayer to the field. A quick hug through the van door is the new threshold for goodbyes. I’m quite sure they’ll never know what balm their goodnight hugs and kisses are these days.
As I work through this ebb and flow job of mothering, there’s one day that anchors me to peace. And it’s actually a day that I’ll never have to face. Because no matter how much raising up is accomplished, no matter how much turning loose has to be accepted, there will never come a day when they’re on their own. I might be a thousand miles and an insurmountable mountain away, but their Heavenly Father will have never taken His hand off their shoulder. They’ll never look back in fear and not find His sure grip on the framework of their lives. He will be guiding and shielding and quickening their every move, trailblazing the straight way forward as they learn to pedal deeper into His ever-present love. Mom may not be with them, but Dad always will be.
And that’s what eases my mother’s heart these September days...knowing that I’m not letting go of my most precious gifts but rather daily delivering them into even greater Hands than my own. Hands that know how to develop the incredible talents they posses and cross their paths with the extraordinary experiences He has planned. He alone knows what magnificent lives they are designed to lead and the amazing people they are to become.
I can say these things with confidence as I, too, still often look back and see His hand right there where He promised it would be, the gentle and tireless upholder of all my days.
The LORD is the one who is going ahead of you.
He will be with you.
He won't abandon you or leave you.
So don't be afraid or terrified.
- Deuteronomy 31:8