I am not a "cryer." If I get a little teary, that's pretty emotional for me. But there are two movies that make my throat get tight and my eyes tear up, and they are "Up" and "Toy Story 3." Actually, I refuse to even watch the beginning of "Up" anymore. And it's the end of Toy Story 3 that caught my emotions by surprise. Who would ever think that it would be kid-movies that touch me the most? I guess there's something very relateable about the big transitions of life, which is the common theme in those two movies, especially when you're experiencing them yourself!
On the very same day this week, one of my kids left for two weeks working in Portland (that's minor, really), another one moved back to campus after the summer off (I'll still see him on weekends, so that's pretty minor too), and my youngest boarded a plane for Bosnia...for the whole school YEAR! (that's major).
Kate is part of a foreign exchange program called YES Abroad, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. She applied as one of over a thousand students and was selected as one of the 100 semi-finalists, based on good grades, extracurricular activities, community involvement, and interest. She flew to Denver for a weekend of interviews (one in English, one in French) and group activities where she was observed for things like initiative, adaptability, confidence, positive attitude, problem-solving, leadership, friendliness, etc. Then 52 semi-finalists were selected into the program, and Kate was among them.
She was ecstatic.
Actually, I was too. Mixed with a feeling of, "Oh, no, what have I done?"
I wanted her to go. It was a deep desire of mine when I was her age, but alas, my mother would not let me. I begged my mom to at least take a foreign exchange student, but she didn't want to do that either. Four years later my younger cousin took off for a year in Chile, and the experienced changed her life. She went on to travel in Europe where she met her future her husband. Her first child was born in Austria. She translated for refugees. Then she moved back to the States and now works as a foreign exchange student coordinator, placing hundreds of students every year into homes, hosting a new student herself every year, and travelling all over the world with her organization to connect with the countries they work with. My mom, who was such a chicken when I was young, has actually taken in quite a few foreign students since I left home and keeps in contact with many of them to this day. And we have also hosted many students in our own home from all over the world. So when Kate expressed the desire to go, it didn't surprise me and I supported her wholeheartedly.
Last year she was a Rotary short-term exchange student to France. I loved that program...she spent 6 weeks of the summer in France and then brought her host sister home with her to spend the next 6 weeks of the summer with us. It went by quickly, and all through her absence we were looking forward and getting ready for her return with her French sister. We had a wonderful time with the girls, touring all over the western U.S., seeing and experiencing new things, as well as old things made new through the eyes of someone who had never seen or done those things before. Food was more fun! Scenery was more beautiful! Even grocery shopping was exciting! And cooking together was a riot! I tried roasting rabbit via Skype with our host daughter's mother in France, an excellent cook who coached us through preparing the carcass and braising it to perfection. And then when the 6 weeks were done, we "bisous"ed goodbye and went back to routine life as school started the very next day.
But this time, there is no school. No senior year to enjoy. No awards and activities. No school lunches to make. No after-school chats. Just a clean, quiet house and my job and the cat. I feel just a little cheated of our last year together before she was to leave for college. Oh, well. Such is the lot of a mother.
As I watched Kate sort through 17 years of her life and place things in bins labeled, "Throw Away," "Give Away," "Dorm," "Keep" and "Pack," I felt an odd churning of emotion within me. Excitement, anticipation, dread, uncertainty, pride, sorrow, happiness, loneliness, nervousness, confidence...mixing all that with funny dreams and a flurry of activity produced within me---I'm not sure what to call it. Perhaps it doesn't even have a name. Every mother experiences it at some time...it's an inevitable and expected season of parenting. It's "Letting Go." They want to go. We have to let them. And I'm not talking about letting them as in giving them permission, but letting them as in taking our hands off, dropping our expectations, erasing our agenda, ending our plans, silencing our commands and thrusting them forward into their own expectations, agenda and plans...with a smile and a blessing.
So back to Toy Story. As she stood over the 5 bins of her life, she dropped in item after item: This part of her childhood could be thrown away. This part of her childhood could be shared with another. This part of her childhood would transition to her new life. This part of her childhood would be reserved for future use as an adult. And this part of her childhood had no use except to give her pleasant memories of happy times, special people and proud accomplishments of the past. Some of the things that she lightly tossed aside into the "Give Away" or "Throw Away" box made me long to reach out and grab them back..."Kate, you don't want this anymore?" I was the one with the sentimental attachment! Other things she longingly held as she debated where to place it and I would say, "Oh, Kate, you'll never use that again," and she would reluctantly set it aside. Some things we both agreed were precious and needed to be tucked safely away. Other things we laughed over, hardly able to believe that she had once used it or loved it or made it. And as boxes were filled, I had the Toy Story feeling of her toys crying out, "Don't put us in the box! Take us with you!" Or maybe it was just me whispering, "Don't put me in a box! Take me with you!" And maybe that's why the movie gets me every time. It's not the toys, it's the mother that is neatly boxed up and labeled...not "Give Away," not "Throw Away," not "Future," not "Dorm," and certainly not "Pack," but "Save."
Save for what? Well, the day we put Kate on the plane she had a visa problem. I'm the one who pulled out my cell phone and found the number of the person who had authority to put her on the plane. Then that made us late and the security line was long and she was at risk of missing her flight. I was the one who ran back to the counter and grabbed an airline rep to escort her through security ahead of the line and get her to her gate. Then when we chatted online after she arrived, she told me her stomach had been acting up, full of butterflies. Half an hour later, surprised, she told me they were gone and said how calming it was to talk to her mom. So mothers go into the "Save" box...saved for advice, comfort, prayer, counsel, support, encouragement and approval in times of uncertainty, discouragement, sorrow or confusion as our children navigate their way into adulthood.
So I'm not the nurturer, the cuddler, the playmate, the discipliner, the nourisher, the authority, the decision-maker or the mommy any more. I'm saved for other needs.
Your children are always your children, no matter their age. They will always need you--- maybe not as often as you like or in the way that you are used to, but you are needed...and loved...
|One of Kate's many piles left behind|
|Not the greatest picture because of the|
light behind her and our great rush
to get her on the plane, but
there she goes!!