Being a parent is hard. Like, worn-down-with-exhaustion, just-want-to-sleep-until-they’re-eighteen kind of hard.
When my kids were babies and toddlers it was a physical exhaustion: pushing through the days on little to no sleep, nursing on demand, constantly getting up to move little hands away from electrical sockets, wearing a baby while pushing a two year old in a stroller with one hand and holding the sweaty hand of a three year old through the parking lot while scanning for cars backing up and pulling in. Those were the days when we tucked those sweet, little people in at the end of the day and breathed a big sigh of relief. We’d all made it through another day safe and sound.
These days, the days of preteens and older children (according to some, my daughter will be a preteen at 8 next month. What?!), are less physically exhausting and more mentally and emotionally exhausting. While I no longer have to bathe each child or cut up their food, maturing brains and changing attitudes mix together with random hand-holding and hugging to make a curious cocktail of the little kids they were and the teenagers they are on their way to becoming. There are deeper questions that need answering when I least expect it. Questions like, “What’s abortion?” and “Why would someone shoot up a building full of people?”
If ever there was a time I felt the urgency to hold on, it’s now. My oldest broke the news that he’ll legally be an adult in less than seven years and I almost panicked about all the things we have yet to teach him, about letting him go out into this big, scary world and be in charge of himself. All the practical things like balancing a checkbook and cooking and cleaning a toilet (actually cleaning it, kid.). And all the heart things like loving people and being kind. Always at the back of my mind is the question, “Are we doing enough?”
Can we ever really do enough?
Or do we just do our very best, whatever that may be, and leave the rest up to God.
That has to be the answer, right? Because we can’t do everything. We can’t be everywhere.
So I guess we try our best to answer the hard questions. We be present with them in the moment, whether we are holding their hands or helping them work through tough emotions. We love with abandon. We hold them in our hands loosely and then someday we let go.
I can teach them everything I know, but I can’t control their future. That’s a terrifying feeling, the feeling of not being in control, the not knowing what could happen in the life of someone so very precious to you.
And maybe the letting go is a gradual process that happens over the years. Maybe it starts with letting them pick out their clothes and then their friends and then their college, slowly peeling that band-aid off until that moment they take flight, when you rip that last little bit off.
I can’t really say. I’m not there yet.
Maybe raising the Not-so-Littles is more about being together and living life than checking off life skills. Maybe we just show them how to live and they catch on. Definitely there’s a place for teaching and instructing, but there’s so much learning in just living.
This morning while I was running with my daughter, she looked up at me towards the end of the run and said, “Mommy, how come when we run you never seem as tired as I do?”
I would’ve laughed until I cried if I could’ve caught my breath. The truth is, I hate running. I’m terrible at it. I keep trying, holding out hope that I’ll one day break through some mental barrier and be a “real” runner. You know, the kind that NEEDS to run. The kind that gets that awesome runner’s high instead of feeling like someone threw a bag of rocks at my stomach and beat my legs with a bat.
I told her the truth. It’s hard for me, but I push through. And for all sorts of reasons: to show her that we can do things even if they are hard, to teach her that we can always get better at things if we try.
But mostly I run with her because I get to be with her. Just the two of us. It’s another chance to laugh at silly dogs and marvel at the big, blue sky, to groan with those first, achy steps and complain about the sweat on our faces or the sun in our eyes. We get to do it together.
And I’ll take any chance I get to do things together.