How are you doing?
It’s a question I’ve been asked at about the exact pace my oldest daughter’s been asked, “Where are you going to college?” (I’m thankful her answer is UNC!)
The answer to the question directed my way feels more complicated. I’m not sure what to say, and I’m not sure how to feel. Most days I vacillate between gratitude and grief. In some ways, her graduation this week is a continuation of everything I’ve been experiencing since I gave birth more than 18 years ago. Motherhood feels like an extended journey of letting go.
Grief of Letting Go
She first began leaving on October 30, 2000. After 36 hours of hard labor, she traveled from the safety of my womb and started her own journey. We watched her for hours with delight and marveled at every single finger and toe, smile and tear.
Soon, she began to crawl, then walk, and then run. With each step, she gained independence and I lost a little more control. She learned to talk, exert her opinion, and make her own friends. Preschool for a couple of hours led to elementary school that lasted for eight hours. Middle-school sports made the time away even longer. High school added extra hours of studying, more sports, and then, at 16, the ability to drive. With each passing stage, she’s been gone a little longer and the letting go a little harder.
I somehow lost parts of her along the way. I get glimpses of who she used to be when I hold someone else’s baby or read a book with a toddler, but it’s accompanied by a strange feeling of loss. Where is my baby? My 2-year old? My kindergartener? She was here just a minute ago and now time has taken her away. I’m left wishing there was a way to bottle certain moments and memories so I could once again share a morning with Emma at age 3 or 5 or 11.
The grief doesn’t hit me during the special moments. I’ve smiled joyfully through all the final events: the last volleyball match, the last soccer game, the last awards ceremony. I expected tears and busily attended these events without much emotion. Rather, it’s been typical of grief. Like a snake in the summer grass, it strikes when I least expect it. A couple of weeks ago, I opened TGC and noticed a new song by Caroline Cobb for Mother’s Day. In the middle of my workday, I sat at my computer sobbing as she sang:
Little fingers they run / Through my hair / A tiny head on my shoulder / When you reach for my hand / Just to know I’m there / The things I’ll miss when you’re older
A few days later, I was wandering the grocery store and noticed a mom distracted by her list while her little girl chatted away in the shopping cart. All of the sudden, the tears welled. Where is my little girl? How can it be that the little years are already over? Does that mom know just how special that mundane moment is? Can I have one more grocery run with a little one in my cart?
There are so many moments I can’t get back. So many days that once seemed never-ending now feel like the blink of an eye. Yet, in the midst of the grief of what was, I find gratitude overwhelming me with the joy of what is.
Gratitude of Gain
I haven’t just lost my cuddly baby with chunky thighs and infectious laughter. I’ve gained a daughter taller than myself with a heart for Jesus that overflows to every person she meets. While we used to look at her in wonderment of what she’d become, we now look at her in amazement of who she is—which happens to be a much kinder person in every way than either of her parents. We fully recognize that what her genetic code didn’t offer her, the Spirit produced in beautiful ways. I look at her and see answers to 19 years of prayers. God has worked in her in ways that make my heart overflow with gratitude at his goodness.
Yes, I will miss her at the table for devotions every morning. I’ll miss being the first one to hear about her day. I’ll miss processing life with her. I’ll miss making Saturday morning scones in the kitchen while she and her Dad watch Premier League Soccer in the other room. I’ll miss her warm smile and the way she lights up a room. I’ll miss walking by her room and it being a complete mess. I’ll miss having our family together every day as the usual part of our lives rather than a special occasion.
I’m glad I’m going to miss her—it’s a sign of the joy she’s brought to our lives. I’m also excited for her. I can’t wait to see her make new friends, learn from her studies, and grow in her relationship with God. Each of our children’s lives is like watching a story unfold. I’m thankful to have a front row seat.
How am I doing?
I’m writing with tears of grief and gratitude. I’m sorrowful, yet rejoicing.
Motherhood is a journey of letting go. I’m so very thankful for the journey.