I can count on my fingers the number of experiences that deeply affected my parenting journey. One of the most profound occurred over 21 years ago, at Trinity Christian College.
That summer had been one of huge change for us. Mark and I felt called to have me apply for, and then accept, a job at Trinity as a Residence Director. I left my teaching job in tears, moved out of my beloved classroom and we began to plan for a move to campus. Becoming an RD meant that we would live in a small apartment in a residence hall surround by roughly 200 freshman college students. The move felt crazy and seriously exciting.
We celebrated our second anniversary that summer and found out that we were expecting Noah, our first-born. In the first trimester, I left a job I loved, moved out of our first shared home, took a new job, and moved into a tiny cinder block apartment in a building that truly never slept. It was a whirlwind.
I spent the first month learning this new and unusual job. Before I felt entirely ready (Does anyone really ever feel ready to live with 200 college students?) it was Move-In Day. In the world of higher education, there are few days more exciting. New students! New plans! New opportunities! New lessons! New classes! New, new new! My building staff was ready and it ALL began.
Throughout that momentous day, we supported students, answered questions, did a lot of problem-solving, handed tissues to mommas and generally tried to be as welcoming and understanding as we could be. It’s a crazy day, full of a wild spectrum of emotions from both students and parents. (No kidding, I could–but won’t– write a book on the crazy things we experienced over six years of Move-In Days. That kind of major life transition is hard on people.)
At the end of the day, I found myself standing in my apartment, catching my breath. I was still in the early part of pregnancy that leaves you worn and wanting a nap, but the day was not yet done. I wandered to the door of our apartment, which looked out onto the courtyard in front of our building. Some students were still moving around. Some parents had left. But some were still trying to say goodbye.
With my hand on my belly and Noah inside, I watched mommas hug their babies. And I will confidently call them babies here because I know full well that each momma looked up and saw just that. Her BABY. She was about to leave her baby at school.
How does anyone do that? At the time, I had no idea.
There were so many tears. So many. Parents cried and tried to be strong. Students cried and tried to be brave. And yes, there were those who did a happy dance to the car and kids who kicked up their heels four minutes after that weepy wave. But, as I stood there and watched, I felt like I could see the whole of parenting in one quick flash. Time stood still as I watched one last momma hug her baby goodbye.
It caught my breath.
In that very minute, I wondered how Mark and I could raise our children in such a way that when the time came, we would be ready (as ready as one can be) to release our kids. I wondered what we needed to teach our babies, and what kind of life we needed to offer them to feel prepared to leave them at college and then walk away with any hint of comfort or calm. In that very minute, I felt the bump in my belly beneath my hand but saw the place we were headed, all at once. And in some small way, I understood it all differently.
It is so easy to think that we are in this parenting gig for today. It is easy to think we will be doing it forever and that forever will be the amount of time we have to really raise our kids. It is easy to believe that it is all about co-sleeping or not and potty-training and time-out and tantrums and spelling lists and middle school drama and Homecoming dances and learning to drive and Prom…
But it is NOT.
These may be memorable pit-stops on this amazing (and tiring) journey but raising our kids is just not about all of this. Instead, we need to squint and see that this big work has a lot to do with what we are teaching them along the way. It has to do with instilling discipline and fostering independence and holding on tight and letting go in faith. It has to do with helping our littles to grow into the people they are meant to be and teaching them what they need to know while we can because truly, TRULY, the day is impending when our time is up.
That very day, I stood there in tears, no baby yet in my arms and a question on my heart. “How will we ever be ready? What do they need from us before we say goodbye?”
And it changed everything for me.
Let me be clear. Mark and I screw up. A lot. We have made mistakes in our parenting and we have had to regroup. We have missed opportunities that we wish we had not. And our kids make mistakes, too. Lots. Even when we have tried to teach them otherwise.
I am thankful for the sense of purpose those college mommas gave to me that day. They helped me see the scope of things and that changed how we loved on and raised our four.
But there is more…
About two weeks ago, a crazy thing happened. We never thought it would go this way and honestly would not have even thought to pray for this. Our two oldest kids, independent of one another, decided to become Trinity Christian College students. (This is its own story to tell… but the story is not mine. As their mom, I am thrilled that they are together and hoping they both love this amazing school that has been influential in my life and in our lives together.)
Do you know what this means?
It means that about halfway through my boys’ Move-In Day, this Momma requested a favor. I needed us to go out to the courtyard in front of that apartment door. And I could not tell this whole story to my boys right then because the first day holds enough emotion without inviting anymore, but they know that Move-In Days are tricky and so they went.
And, we stood right there. Right where that momma once said goodbye to her baby and taught to me to see parenting differently. And we took a picture.
It was a full-circle moment of sorts and I walked away with a lump in my throat and a deep sense of gratitude for that spot and that lesson, over two decades old.
I still cried when I said goodbye. I still cry as I write this down. But, I am thankful that we knew where we were headed while we raised these kids, even when we made mistakes. And I am grateful for the perspective we were given in one Mom’s goodbye.