You know, it doesn't matter how great the talk is, how important the speaker, or how poignant the testimony, when there's a baby around - I am totally distracted in church meetings. It's like, "Sorry -- there's a baby here!" Today, I couldn't help observing a young mother and her infant. The baby girl is her first, and just the sweetest thing; petite, bright-eyed, tiny rosebud lips. I watched with tenderness how mother and child interacted. You could feel the mother's great hopes and dreams for that little one every time she held her up to her face and cooed at her. I remember all of that so well. Of course I could not comprehend at that stage, as my young mother friend certainly does not, how precious - and painful - the ensuing years would be; those years when your dreams either become their dreams too, or are replaced with completely different dreams of their own making.
It is the beginning of a new year and my grown children are off on their end-of-Christmas-break pilgrimage back to their lives away from mine. This letting-go-and-grow has been a process for me as a mother, as it is for all mothers. I've found mine has been documented in my January journal entries for the past 8 years:
I can hardly believe the year is over. Mortality is such a paradox; an irony, and a wonder. We anticipated so much in the past year, and now it is all a memory. It makes me joyful while fighting melancholy and the urge to curse TIME. It seems wicked for marching on without mercy and for limiting us to consecutive experiences: one horizon after another. No sooner do I climb and then descend the hill; but there's another one before me. My children are growing up.
I looked at my "baby" and realized that my child princess is no longer a child. At 13, we are on a whole new era/adventure. I also begin another year of raising young adults. No more Primary, no more kissing "owies" better, no more breaking up their disagreements, no more scrubbing their faces, admiring their freckles, or teaching them to ride a bike, write the alphabet, or to "ooo" over a dinosaur. I left diapers behind a long time ago with playpens, car seats, and cribs. But the intervening years have been a delight - especially the moments with the girl with the ringlets cascading down her back.
The kids and I finished reading the Book of Mormon TOGETHER. The project has taken well over a year's time, but through it I've taught them and "discovered" them; even as they "discovered" the riches inside that Book of Books...morning after morning, sitting about the living room or gathered round the kitchen table, reading aloud two verses each. Discussions and digressions frequently intervened -- that's why it took so long! We went to one of our favorite restaurants last night to celebrate our accomplishment. But dinner out couldn't compare to the joy and relief I felt flood my entire being as I read aloud Moroni's last verse. I put my head down and sobbed. If I should die tomorrow, my children will have our hours together, reading the Book of Mormon.
Thinking about this new year...as I see it, my mission right now, at least for the next several years, is to center my energies on raising my teens and young adults; supporting, encouraging, teaching -- as they stretch their wings and discover who they really are.
My heart has been broken over and over during the past year. Yet Charity wins! Christ the victor! My hurt and anxieties have melted into a peaceful acceptance of my children's agency. But what sorrow I have had to pass through! Losing my children from under my constant care is the hardest stage of motherhood! Oh Father! Why wasn't I warned at the beginning?!
I'm learning to love this phase of my life: young adults, the struggles and glories of growth, the heady fantasies and the sometimes painful realities, my lifelong dreams and wishes and works and prayers coming to a head, their ultimate fulfillment still an open question, still just around the corner. As my children make the transition into adulthood, I am holding their hands, but with a light touch. As little people, I clung to them and they clung to me, hands clasped tight...mine the bigger. Now, every one of them, except my delicate Ashley, has much larger hands than mine. And instead of walking in front of them, pulling them behind, I can hardly keep up with the ambitious strides that come from their own very long legs. They are still holding my hand for moral support, but with my free hand I alternate between pointing out what's ahead and applying a little encouraging push from beside, or a little behind. Someday very soon, of course, they will be far in front. I will still keep my eye on them, but only to observe their lives and to give an occasional nod of approval, a wave of "I'm okay...you go ahead", and to cry a little when they think to turn around and blow a kiss.
I've chosen to like getting old. Wrinkles are beautiful. Silver hair is a crown of achievement, a symbol of endurance, a reminder that, as Elder Nelson once said, "We're not stuck on this earth forever." Righteousness, held to consistently throughout our lives, produces the fruits of peace and satisfaction in old age, so that we do not fear it. I am over half way through my mortality, and have experienced the miracle of my first grandbaby, and look forward to all the others who are waiting in the wings. My hand is ready to take theirs -- as they lead me.