Sometimes life moves from one phase to another so seamlessly that you don’t even notice the change. You go from the being the house with babies and toddlers to the house with school age kids before you even know it. Then suddenly you look around and realize that Little Tykes, Lego, and Playskool have been replaced by Apple, textbooks, and stinky sneakers.
So often you only notice the passage of stages once they’re gone. The firsts are always noted; first tooth, first day of school, first sleepover, first time driving a car, first date… You don’t, however, notice the lasts. Eventually you start to think, when was the last time you cut up someone’s meat? Picked up one of your children? Gave them a bath? Washed their laundry? These lasts were not marked. They were not properly mourned. One day you picked up that last child, that last baby of the family, for the last time. Seems like that should have been noteworthy. But it was not. It slipped by unnoticed.
Then there are times the delineation from one phase to another is so stark that it’s jarring. How is it that that child who just yesterday was lining up his matchbox cars all in a row is now a husband? How can it be that that child who used to stick his pencils in the flame of the candle every time you left the room is now a firefighter? The kid you were afraid to let drive your car is now paid a lot of money by a city municipality to drive their million dollar firetrucks? How is it that the baby who would give you pouty lip and watery eyes every time you left her in the church nursery is now off to college without a backward glance, taking care of her own business and handling her own life? How is it that the baby of the family, the one you watched like a hawk to keep safe, that child you spent hours in the ER with over the span of her life praying as she fought off yet another anaphylactic reaction, is now applying to nursing school because she wants to be the nurse in the ER instead of the patient? These things are startling.
In 26 years my children have gone from helpless little cherubs to competent adults. I, however, remain the same; a little wiser hopefully, and a littler rounder to be sure, but overall the same. The passage of these 26 years did not have such a stark a change on me. I am still the same mom who worries when they’re not home. I’m still the mom who becomes enraged when someone slights one of her babies. I don’t even care if they’re all technically adults now. I will fight you. I’m the same mom who wants to make sure they’re taking their vitamins, eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, not working too hard, and going to church. The difference now is that those things are no longer my job.
So what is my job now? I’m not really sure. My kids used to jokingly call me Motherboard after the character in the show CyberChase who is described as ‘the relaxed and benevolent ruler of Cyberspace who lives in Cyberspace Control Central’ That was me. I was the (mostly, I hope) benevolent ruler of my control central. The center of the house. The knower of what’s for dinner, all the phone numbers, dates on the calendar, whose turn it is to feed the dogs, and when they last had a tetanus shot.
I know the next phase of life will be fun. Different, but fun. Empty nesters. Dave and I will have the ability to flit about from here to there without an act of congress to set it all up. I won’t have to hold everyone’s schedules in my brain, just mine and Dave’s. I assume at some point there will be grandchildren. I can’t wait for this. I’m going to ROCK the grandma thing. I had to teach and train and discipline my own kids. It’ll be my kid’s and their spouse’s job to do the hard bits of parenting. Grandma just gets to play and read the books and make the cookies. I’m going to love that.
But we’re not there yet. Now we’re in the In Between. Not quite at the foot loose and fancy free daysof the empty nesters. Not at the eat ice cream and read books with the grandbabies phase. I’m not sure I like the In Between phase. It’s incongruent. Happy but sad. Exciting but scary. You don’t really have any say anymore. You have zero control. The stakes are much higher when they make mistakes, but you can’t do it for them. You want them to go and make their way in the world, but also not leave the nest. You want them to go serve the Lord, but not too far away please and thank you. The job in this In Between phase seems to be that of a cheerleader. You cheer and encourage when your team is winning, and you cheer and encourage and silently beseech God on behalf of your team, when they’re losing. Either way, your job is only to cheer.