When he was little, it took forever to pack. A simple weekend away required the filling of our SUV with so many things it hardly seemed worth going. The bouncy seat and Pack-and-Play. A chair to attach to the table. Toys. Favorite blankets and pacifiers and back-up pacifiers because those things go missing no matter what you do.
It was a lot of work.
And once we got to a place where we did not need stuff for Noah, Benjamin was born. Four years later, Josiah came along. Two years later, EB came home. It felt like we would need a bouncy seat on weekends away for the rest of our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, that family time away was worth it all. It mattered that we tried. And it mattered that we could spend some time together seeing things, doing things, laughing out loud around a campfire somewhere.
The part I guess I never considered is that it wasn’t an endless thing, the packing and traveling together. When they were all in school, we started teaching THEM to pack. Sitting in the living room, I would tell them to go get jammies, jeans, three tee shirts, a toothbrush. We taught them to fold it and put it in a backpack of their own. Running back and forth to bedroom and dresser, they gathered their things and got ready to go.
I loved that then. It was less for me to do because there is no way around the fact that doing all for four is a lot for any one momma to handle. (And it is not my job… this I know. It is my job, instead to help them learn what they need to learn to grow up and be the people they are meant to be. Adult people know how to pack.)
Four kids can be pricey so our trips were on the cheap. Camping more than hotel rooms and day trips more than a week. The time and sleeping arrangements were our last concerns. The company counted. So much. The being together. That was the most important thing. We were building a library of shared memories that we would get to keep.
This was our reality. Six of us packed in the van heading somewhere. Six was perfect. Six was right. Six meant all of us were tucked in there together. Sometimes the personalities clashed. Sometimes, it was tricky. Sometimes someone sat too close to someone else or touched their things or spilled their drink into another’s box of Legos. And all of it was a part of that complete number. Six. Mark and I up front with Noah and Benjamin in the middle and the little ones, Josiah and EB riding in the third row.
That is how it was until last week.
Noah was home on spring break weeks ago. With no one else off school, he enjoyed a lot of down time and many lunches alone with Mom and Dad. Nothing flashy. Pretty restful.
Last week however, everyone else was off. Mark and I talked about heading out of town for a few days, hoping to find the sun. (We didn’t.) We threw around some dates and picked the end of the first weekend into the beginning of the week. Dreams of beach days dashed, we thought St. Louis would be fun.
And then… as we were booking a hotel and figuring out what type of room we needed, it hit us. There would be no six.
We asked Noah if he could come, just in case. But the semester ends in about 5 weeks and there is just no way. College is full and grades matter. Good for him for telling us. Good for him for being responsible. Yep, I know it is good.
But, when it was time to leave, we were five. That has not happened before… And I totally get that it will and I totally get that its normal. It has happened to people forever that their kids grow up and grow out and what was six becomes only two. But it had not happened to us… not until then.
At first, it was okay. We let the kids watch a movie in the van, which we NEVER do and they soaked up that little bit of luxury and spread out into the available space. Every now and then someone would mention how strange it was and the van would fall quiet… because what more is there to say?
Everywhere we went, we talked about what Noah would think. We saved things to see and do for when we go back together. And we had fun and laughed and it was good but really, really different.
The last day, we went to the City Museum. It is a wild experience and there was just no way to be there without missing Noah at every turn. I could not help but imagine how much fun he would have, the climbing and risk taking and urging us all to try the next strange thing. I could picture him running with Benjamin ahead of us all, trying to push the boundaries of safety and sanity while smiling and running on. And while I loved watching the other three connect in different ways, encouraging one another and exploring side-by-side, I just missed him. I found myself choked up again and again, finding a dark corner in that strange place to wipe my eyes, and staring down the reality that this is what it will look like sometimes… then often… then mostly.
And it struck me then that packing all that equipment, when everyone was little, felt like forever. I did not think, while packing his bouncy seat, that we would already be at this place. I found myself wondering if I soaked it up then, if I was present then, if I would do it differently if I realized that he would be an adult so dang soon…
This week I know something deeply: my kids are growing up. It will happen again and again. And I want to show up and be there while I can. I do not want to take for granted any day when our van holds six. I do not want to wish away the craziness required to get my kids on the road. I want to intentionally find ways for us to be together, in one place, whenever that will work.
And there is a flip side to that truth that is hard for this momma to say: I also want them to so know that they are wanted and loved and accepted that they can tell us when they CANNOT go. I want them to know that they will be missed but that we understand, as well. Which is hard. But true. Noah did the right thing, not the easy thing. I am proud of him for that…
Tonight, we will have three kids around the table. I get to feed them and love them and listen to their tales. It will be loud and they will make a terrible mess, for sure. But I want to focus on the fact that we will be here together, not on that which distracts.
Things are shifting. I have no option but to bend some, too. This momma will always want all my babies home. I will always feel that we are most complete when every seat is full. But that was never my forever, nor is it yours. As mommas, we must find the sweet where it sits, not in what we wish. Moments shared that matter in the most mundane ways…
… a text from Noah with a picture of something he cooked himself.
… a late night chat with Benjamin, who is college-bound next.
… Josiah’s hand on my shoulder, as we drive home from school.
… EB’s story about track and the words of encouragement she shared.
All sweet. All valued. All stored up.
While we can.