Friday, I hug one goodbye and she boards a bus. Again. Second time this month. I cry half the way home and she’s only gone for a couple of days. Is it hormones or anticipatory grieving? Maybe it’s worry. What will she injure this time? Whatever the cause, tears are a mama’s prerogative.
The next morning, we take to the open road on a perfect Midwestern winter day. Naked trees. Silos and corn fields dotting the landscape. Billowy clouds overhead and the sun flirts with the snow, making it sparkle. I drive in good company with the two I fondly refer to as “my littles”—not because they are anymore but because that’s how I like to think of them. We pass the sign that says “Welcome to Ohio” and pick up the oldest at the airport on the way to Grandmas. We’re headed to a wedding of the boy nephew who was playing in the baby pool with my big girl yesterday. Or was it the day before?
On Sunday, he marries his high school sweetheart against the odds. It’s all very enchanting. From the snowflakes dancing in the wind to the Valentine’s red bridesmaid dresses, the heart shaped Dove candy and the adoring gazes intermingled with passionate embraces, I’m watching these sacred moments and contemplating the way romance morphs as it is seasoned by years and soldered by commitment.
Over time, romance is less about candlelight dinners with soft music and more about cleaning up vomit and mopping up messes, about preparing nutritious meals for the ten thousandth time and then doing the dishes to boot, about getting out of bed every day even when your job is boring, your boss is undesirable, your co-workers are unreasonable and you’re undervalued as well as underpaid in order to provide a roof over your family’s head. And then, sitting at the kitchen table late into the night paying bills.
27 years in, I still appreciate compliments, flowers and chocolate as much as the next girl but creative flattery is like dessert—delightful and tasty- but you can’t live on it. Daily relational nourishment is sustained by an entirely different kind of romance. It’s praying together hands intertwined, and lying in bed next to one another late into the night recounting with gratitude the faithfulness of God in the story we’ve shared.
Like that time when the car broke down in the middle of nowhere on a road trip and we were stranded at a truck stop overnight.
…And the phone call with the job offer from our alma mater. We jumped up and down for joy.
…And there were the days we buried our parents.
…And his Ph.D. graduation.
…And months when chronic health issues pummeled us and our children.
…And the moment our first daughter greeted the world with a cry, was placed first in his arms, then to my breast.
And then came a second, and a third and a fourth little girl.
…And the night he read the Psalms to me while I labored to deliver our stillborn son. Then he built a cedar chest in the garage to lay his tiny body in while I sat in a lawn chair and we planned the memorial service.
…And we built our dream house, which turned into a relational nightmare actually.
…And our big girl’s graduation from home school.
…And he called a family conference and gave us a “For Sale” sign for our Texas house and informed us we were moving back to Michigan.
…And that all important hour, we landed in a marriage counselor’s office. Broken and bruised, we looked in the mirror, didn’t like what we saw and decided to do something about it.
The pastor admonishes the dreamy eyed couple, “There’s nothing easier than saying words and nothing harder than living them.”
He’s right. Talk is cheap. Someday, these two will look back on their sappy promises and profuse expressions of affection and muse that mature love is learned in the school of hard knocks. Joys they can’t anticipate and pain they don’t yet know. And the best part is that they’ll figure it all out together.
And that is why I feel celebratory on this day. Because these sweet, tender young uns’ have given their word and signed a legally binding document before God and these witnesses. Now they actually get to learn to live love. And that is the grandest, most defining and sanctifying adventure of all. So when the DJ rolls out the 80’s tunes and I hear an old favorite, I join the crowd on the dance floor and awkwardly Celebrate Good Times, Come On.
Later, after the festivities wind down, I take one of my “littles” to the airport, hug her at the gate and smile as she walks into the jet bridge to board her plane. Alone. She’s flying back to Texas to get her braces off. I try to be brave but tears have a way of ignoring courage. And I realize she’s growing up too. Taking flight. Literally.
The next day, I drive back home with two kids—but not the two I left with.
The day after that, I hug the big girl at the station before dawn and she departs with the train song.
Afterward, I text my husband who’s a thousand miles away and query, “I wonder. Does it ever get easier to watch them leave?”
‘Cause nobody ever told me that staying up all night and wiping little bottoms is a piece of cake compared to the messes that aren’t able to be sanitized by Clorox wipes and late night worrying about not being able to hold their hand in the parking lot (or the tunnel).
Well actually, maybe they did but I wasn’t listening.
Their daddy responds, “Easier, I think yes. Easy. Never.”
So tonight, the littlest princess crawls in my bed, hugging her brown bear called “Choco” in one arm and “Oreo” the mangy black and white panda in the other. And I snuggle in next to her and savor the moment.
She’s already breathing long and even.
And I remind myself that she’s a gift. They’re all a gift. The guy who usually sleeps in that spot, he’s a gift too.
And I breathe in His mercies and breathe out gratitude.
My muscles relax as I trust and rest until my gentle breaths match hers.
(Afterword: No offense to young moms. I was overwhelmed then too. The whole mom thing is an exercise in dependence by design.)