It was nine years ago but it feels like yesterday. At 9:00 AM, I dropped Noah off for his first day of preschool. Granted 2 hours of kid-free time, I panicked. Instead of heading home, I stopped at my friend Suzanne's house and asked if I could sit there a while so I didn't have to go home. There was something about being in our place without him that seemed a bit too much. It wasn't that I thought preschool would go badly. It wasn't that I wanted to keep him home. The fact of the matter was that he was my boy and felt like such a part of me that it was hard to imagine a day without him near. I am so grateful to Suzanne for that morning... for giving me a place to be until I could go pick my baby up and head on home.
Sometimes it seems like parenting is a long, slow season of good-byes. Some of them are said with great rejoicing ("Good-bye diapers!"), others are said with choked back tears ("Have fun at school, honey!"). And while it can be difficult to process through, the good-byes we offer help our children to bravely step into the next, new phase of life.
Two weeks ago, Noah came home and told us there was a youth group retreat upcoming that he wanted to attend. It is important to note that never, NEVER, has this child asked to go away to anything at all. He likes being home. He takes comfort in the familiar. He is quiet and calm and serious and shy. Being home, for him, makes sense. We have encouraged him to spread his wings but each offer was met with a begging plea... "Don't make me go, mom. Please don't make me go."
So, imagine our surprise when this retreat idea was broached! A couple of phone calls later, with a complete understanding of the planned activities, Mark and I agreed that this would be a great first step for our first-born. We told our boy he could go.
With the retreat coming up this weekend, his enthusiasm has waned. We are watching Noah waffle between wanting to go off and be with friends having fun out-of state and wanting to be home with his family and his routine. There are no cell phones allowed so even if he took our extra phone along, its use would be prohibited.
I know as his momma, it is my job to encourage. So I am saying all the right things...
"You are going to have so much fun!"
"College shouldn't be the first time you go away..."
"We love you and will be here when you come home."
"It is just a weekend. By the time you start to miss us, you will be on your way back home."
"You can do this. It is going to be amazing!"
But, truth be told, I want to grab my boy and head on home and tell him he doesn't have to go. I want to keep him where I can see him and let him stay where he is comfortable and where I can love on him and talk to him any time at all.
The thing is... there is no good in that. It breaks my heart but it's the truth. There is no good in keeping him home because I am raising him to... well... leave. I am raising him to stand up tall and walk the path that God has planned for his life in the future and his life today.
And, the thing is... there is so much good in what he can find out on that retreat and out in the world. The growth he can experience personally, spiritually and socially when he stretches his comfort zone like this just cannot be found in his same old spot.
And, well... the thing is that the very truths that I share with my boy every single day will mean so much more to his young life when he hears them again in a voice that is totally not mine. When a youth pastor or college-aged helper or teacher or friend remind my Noah that he is deeply loved by the God who created all that there ever was, he will get it in a way that I cannot give him alone.
So, at 3:45 Noah will get on a bus with all of his friends from school. He will eat Subway on the drive (which he doesn't really like) and watch a movie on the way. And when he goes to sleep tonight, he will be listening to middle-school-boy jokes and will be covered by a sleeping bag on a bunk in a cabin very far away. And tomorrow, while we act like life is normal here, he will play outside and listen to speakers and learn more about himself and his God than he can even guess. He will stay up late, skip his shower, forget to brush his teeth and laugh an awful lot. And Sunday, when he realizes that he is not off to church with us, they will pack him on a bus to head home.
And it is good and it is right and even if just typing that makes me cry, its true. Because parenting is a long, slow season of good-byes... but the blessing in this one is that after two long days, I get to say hello. I get to open my arms and welcome him home and let him share what he is learning and what he has done. I won't always get to do that... but this time, I do.
So, he is going. And we will be okay because it is all a part of what we do. There is a time to hold them close and a time to let them go. This weekend, we embrace the latter because it is good and right for him. Even if it is hard for us.
In a couple of hours, we will smile and wave and tell him to have a great time. The hard part of being a mom is not something he needs to bear. He will know that we believe this is good and he will have an amazing time.
But, do me a favor, will you? Pray for my boy this weekend. Pray with us for safety and fun and growth... It helps to know we're in it together.
Blessings on your day.
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