She’s officially a teenager. The baby, that is.
And more than ever, I’m realizing how quickly hellos turn into goodbyes.
Especially in parenting.
Sometimes I noticed.
Other times, it was as elusive as my breath on a crisp, fall evening.
I don’t remember the last time one of my girls got buckled into their seat in the grocery cart and I bought them a donut while I shopped.
Or when I handed them the final penny to ride Sandy the pony at Meijer.
When did I change the last poopy diaper or applaud them for going potty in the toilet?
And when did they get too big to carry piggyback or on my left hip?
I can’t recall when they served me the final gourmet meal of plastic peas and a rubber hamburger.
Or outgrew the princess costumes.
I don’t remember which home movie was their final production.
And what the sermon was about the last time they leaned against my shoulder, breathed long and went limp.
Last year on this day, my “little” and I drove 2 hours due north for our pre-puberty overnight adventure. And the grand finale, it’s now in the archives too.
I remember the first time I planned this exclusive trip. I had no map. My mama, bless her heart, her radar didn’t detect the storm called adolescence. She wasn’t tracking with my physical, emotional and relational turbulence. I wanted to be more intentional with my girls, offering GPS services toward destination “Womanhood”.
So I studied a curriculum, carefully selected an adorable little B and B an hour away, prayed with my husband and tucked an invitation partially under my daughter’s pillow.
She packed her suitcase, giddy with excitement.
That night, she and I ate dinner at a sit-down restaurant, nestled into plush terrycloth robes and watched a movie together eating soft, homemade cookies and drinking milk in wine glasses. The next morning we savored a gourmet breakfast on china listening to soft classical music.
Tucked in with the feminine pampering was an objective.
To prepare her for adolescence.
Our first lesson started with a puzzle in a Ziploc bag and 10 minutes to put it together. She had no box cover and struggled.
The take away? You’ll have better success navigating your teenage years with a guide and God provides one primarily through His Word and your parents. They’re your box cover.
The instructional CD’s we listened to warned her of the importance of choosing friends selectively and the dangers of peer pressure.
Another session detailed how her body would morph from girl to woman and how a boy physically transforms into a man.
I described the holy union of a man and his wife, explaining that any substitute is a cheap counterfeit according to God. “It’s a jump off a dangerous cliff,” I said, encouraging her to stay as far away from the edge as possible. Especially at 13.
This rite of passage was as unique each time as the child experiencing it.
Last fall, it was my baby’s turn. I knew it was time. Just a few weeks before, she’d sobbed, “I can’t think of any exciting adventures for my dollyhouse family anymore.” Escaping to the innocence of imaginary play eludes as reality invades. And her mind and body are obviously in sync.
So I scheduled our special get-away. Instead of a B and B, I reserved a room at an indoor water park hotel because Lord knows this child has been gypped out of play time with Mama. I packed my trusty curriculum but when we arrived at the hotel, she was wildly excited to ride the waves instead, so I shelved it for later that night and threw on my swimsuit to join her. It’s exactly 57 steps up to the waterslide. We dragged our raft to the top and rode down double. Multiple times.
Tubing along the lazy river, I was quietly conversing with God, words that only He could hear. “I’m insecure. My confidence is in the tank and I don’t know how to do this parenting thing right.”
“What does this girl need from me to be ready for what’s next in her story?” I inquired reflectively. And the lull of the gentle current relaxed me, attuning me to hear God’s tender reassurance. “You’ve got this,” He whispered gently. “Instead of focusing on what’s next, why not celebrate what has been. After all, you can’t relive any chapter of your story and neither can she so you might as well delight in what you have today.” And I suddenly realized that one of the best ways to face the future is to recount the gifts of the past and savor the present. And what better way to prepare for adolescence than to celebrate childhood with an outrageously fun play date.
So I climbed those 57 steps 28 more times and we competed at water basketball, and then the obstacle course. And after a chatty, chicken fingers dinner at the hotel restaurant in yoga pants and tshirts, we sat by a roaring fire in the lobby for storytime. Then, we went back to our room and remembered the goodness of God throughout her girlhood and anticipated adolescence with confidence that God can be trusted with that chapter too.
We rehearsed together a long list of friends and a bounty of shared memories.
I affirmed her good choices, her trustworthiness and resistance to peer pressure so far.
I let go of cautionary advice and allowed myself to wonder with her at God’s miraculous design for relationships, bodies, marriage and reproduction instead.
I chucked the curriculum and trusted my gut.
Younger me thought that parenting was more formulaic. Sincere love multiplied by affirmation and open, honest communication added to enriching opportunities, individualized educational plans, sound doctrine, disciplined training and protective warnings, that produces a healthy kid–physically, emotionally and spiritually.
To older me, it looks a lot more like a crapshoot.
You bring the very best cards you’ve got to play to the table and set them down with as much courage and confidence as you can muster. Then humbly and prayerfully, you trust that God knew what He was doing when he made you these kids mom, brokenness and all.
You pace yourself because this isn’t like a game of Spoons. It’s more like a Monopoly marathon where a single role of the dice can leave your broke and busted.
You take risks that extend beyond your comfort zone.
You own the ways you cheat and manipulate for a win and be the first one to apologize.
You pay close attention to each player’s turns and don’t miss strategic moves with your focus on your electronic device instead.
And mostly, you release to God all of the firsts, lasts and everything in between.
Then you watch with baited breath,
And steadfast confidence in His fresh mercies, new each morning to see what God will do.
In your story.
And in theirs.