It’s here. A day I’ve been simultaneously dreading and anticipating. The first day in a chain of revolutions that will repeat and progress, accelerating toward spinoff.
Both my sons are now attending school full-time. They’re still under my care, still living at home. I hope to always represent home to them.
But they’ve grown up. Those wings they’ve so desperately wanted to spread unhindered are getting airtime. They get to expand their minds and explore new terrain, spending a good portion of their day learning from others. They’ll gain skills, make mistakes, help and be helped by friends, mature into men of wisdom and integrity, all without me present. I don’t have to supervise, referee, lecture, defend, or nag them ’round the clock.
Each of us is ready for the change.
Firsts and lasts
Going to school is exciting, as many firsts are. First words, first steps, first time sleeping in a big boy bed. Each new action precipitates wonder and possibility. We love celebrating all that’s new.
A first also necessarily brings a last. If something new is coming, something old must pass. You quit a job to start a new one. You dump singlehood status to enter into marital bliss. You leave home to move away to college. You drop your youngest baby off to his first day of kindergarten and end your role as an all-day caregiver.
It’s the end – not of the world, not of life as I know it. Some call it the changing of a season, or closing of a chapter. I’m calling it death.
That phase of scheduling my day around meals, naps, playdates, bathroom stops; of whipping out wipes like a gunslinger when a cup inevitably spills; of trips to the library and park and loathsome grocery store; of cozying up on the couch, reading away the afternoon; of losing my temper, again, and coming to them, sobbing, embracing them in sweet reconciliation – it’s done. I can remember, but not bring it back. That stage died.
Yes, of course, I’m being dramatic. No person died. My life isn’t ruined now that my kids are in school. My identity, though closely interlinked with my sons, doesn’t hinge on being a mom. I have a husband, for one thing. We like each other, and like doing activities together. I keep busy, invest in relationships and ministry, look for ways to create and connect. Better than all that, I know Jesus, and am known by him.
No, life isn’t over for me, even as a stay-at-home mom whose kids aren’t home all day, anymore. This next phase of parenting holds bright expectancy for joy. Yet I can’t deny, and don’t want to suppress, the real grief over the ending of an era.
It’s OK to be sad that I’ll miss it.
That’s life for ya – an inexorable series of deaths and resurrections. It’s the circle that moves us all, if we’re to believe the philosophy espoused by The Lion King. From a tree centered in a garden to a tree staked in a skull-shaped hill, the cycle repeated throughout biblical times, and continues ad infinitum today. Like a line from a ’90s pop rock favorite of mine, “Closing Time,” copping a quote from Stoic philosopher Seneca, the world echoes:
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
Endings come in waves – through a flood, across a tumbling wall, in a veil torn apart; by winter’s invasion and crushed dreams and relational doors slammed shut. Death never wins, though. Just as winter cedes to spring, so do ashes birth life. Jesus rose from the dead and raised us up with him, granting us a new home, new family, new richness in living for him.
If death is merely a vehicle to greater life, why do we loathe it? Victors in Christ have nothing to fear; he defeated condemnation. At some point, you’d think we’d get used to it, the cyclical pattern of dust to dust.
Yet when the dust is beloved, and it flits away, accessible only by reminiscence, we cry. The end of something is the loss of something, and those left behind are made losers.
God has made us for eternity, and we crave its permanence. Even in small shifts from one season to the next, we feel the pains of labor, groaning along with creation for ultimate restoration – when all will truly be well. Our bodies of dust are continuously handed death in order to unveil resurrection.
Every passage of an age shows us greater glory awaits, and weighs on us in the meantime.
I recently read my boys a chapter from a children’s devotional that whacked me with irony.
“When Stars Die” explains how those big balls of gas eventually peter out, shrivel up, and soak in massive energy until they explode in a jaw-dropping supernova. The author compared this phenomenon to Christ’s death on the cross, and how it was both a horrible tragedy and beautiful spectacle of grace.
This paradox will never cease to amaze me. I doubt I’ll fully grasp the depth of the gospel mystery this side of heaven. Why would the only Perfect Person die to save a thoroughly imperfect me?
Only God knows.
I see him now, but dimly. I thought I knew him, but am just now awakening to how all of life points to Christ – the small and momentous ways that recite his miraculous narrative. Moments like saying goodbye to my youngest at his first day of kindergarten display a necessary death that initiates joy unfolding. It’s exciting and hard, as you’d expect any birth to be.
All the emotions that accompany the birth/death cycle – tears of anguish and rapture for arrivals and homegoings – coexist at the cross. Life doesn’t spin in futility. We have a Savior who secured a future without pain, fear, or sorrow, and who stays in us and with us, renewing our hope for the unseen.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ (Romans 6:4)
There’s a carpet unrolling before me, leading to new life ahead. Sure, it’s just one goodbye in a series of beginnings and endings that will repeat all the days I’m alive. Yet this one small goodbye reminds me that death’s next of kin is birth, and weeping for joy and grief can be exhaled within the same breath.
I’m sitting here, typing this, crying because I miss my baby; glad because we’re being reborn.