“I’ve figured it out,” I declared to Keith. “I know what I need.” He raised an eyebrow at me. It had been months since the kids had left home. I was still rattling around our big old house. Sometimes, I felt like I could still hear their voices echoing off the walls. After they all left in a rush, I had sat quietly. Feeling the sadness, fearing the end. I was listless and avoided many of the things I had once poured myself out for. Evenings when Keith worked, I poured a glass of wine and retreated to my “studio,” which was newly decorated to finally declare it my own. There, I listened to audio books and knitted.
“I need a Central Organizing Principle,” I announced. He coughed and looked at me again. “A what?” “A Central Organizing Principle.” From the moment, I learned I was pregnant with Allie, I know what I wanted to do and be. A mom. The idea of being a mom had become the tiny thread around which I wound my life. Now, after twenty-some years, it was the most beautiful and demanding thing I had ever done. And they were gone. In the wake of their leaving, all the things I knew about my life seemed to vanish.
They had been when I awoke in the morning (before them… or I would never catch up) and what we had for dinner (food preferences wore me out). Their needs and my idea of what a mom could be, should be, took on a life of its own when I was young. I didn’t feel up to the task so I pulled together an image of what “a good mom” should do and be. She was an amalgam of my friends and acquaintances… earth mom who got dirty with her kids and played in the stream, fussy mom who packed the bag with all of the necessary items for a day at the beach (including a thermos of hot chocolate to warm them up on the inside), and intuitive mom who always seemed to know what they needed before the meltdown. I tried without success to become “the good mom” and struggled under a mantle of failure for many years.
Finally, I learned that who I am as a mom would have to be enough. They would make do with the mom who stayed in the sanctuary late on Sunday morning, listened to Lynard Skynard on the drive to church, loved Lord of the Rings, and never learned to play. I would introduce them to 80’s movies, classic musicals, hair bands, and Auntie Mame. I never learned to enter into imaginative play or how to make truck noises (much to Brian’s dismay). But, I was able to embrace myself as a mom. I gave them who I was and hoped it would be enough. This act of sufficiency felt like rebellion but it was as often more fearful than it was defiant. I had to trust that who I was would be enough, and God would fill in the gaps.
On the other side of raising them, I feared I would never find another thing that would be as beautifully exasperating or as completely demanding as being Allie, Brian, and Stephanie’s mom. It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to do, but I seemed to have lost some central cord that helped me navigate life. Being their mom touched everything in my life. From morning to night, I was confronted daily with lack of purpose and focus in my days. Without the kids as the central organizing principle of my life, I felt empty and lost.
It’s been six years since that first fall after they left in a rush. During that time, I have tried to fill the hole in a variety of ways. None of my efforts have been sufficient. Instead, I’ve learned that life moves on. There won’t be another season of raising humans in my life, but the raising not only shaped them, it shaped me. In these next seasons, I recovered and found fullness and life on the other side of raising children. The emptiness is not filled, I don’t think it ever will be. Instead, it forms a firm core in the center of who I am. There is strength and there is tenderness as I walk alongside those who are still in the raising years. These years don’t last forever, but their effect does.
These days, I am no longer looking for a Central Organizing Principle. Faith, hope, and love will provide the guidance and direction I need. Keith and I are enjoying this new rhythm and we are finding the length and depth of our love to be a fertile ground for new adventures and broad horizons. We seem to have been able to put the regrets behind, for there were many, and find a renewed sense of purpose moving forward. We know there is One who has walked with us to this moment, and we trust Him to carry us through the rest of our days.
Oh, and there are grandbabies here!