Before we had children, Andrew and I lived frugally but adventurously on our budget, listened to NPR in the evenings, strolled pillow-faced on Saturday mid-mornings to the St. Louis Bread Company in U. City for chocolate chip muffins and good coffee, exercised, flew to Chicago for Christmas, watched Masterpiece Mystery, camped our way to Rocky Mountain National Park, studied, and rang in the new year with champagne toasts and friends.
And then we had our firstborn, and those two people changed overnight. The sweetness of this new phase, parenting, was so overwhelming, so charged with love and purpose, we didn’t miss the old life. Of course, all new parents miss sleep. And we missed the freedom to get up and go somewhere and browse. We never browsed again. That word drops from a parent’s life forever.
But still, we didn’t miss the no-kids days. Because we loved the cherubs so much, and we still had some control even in the hairy days of the new human in the house dictating everything. Then a second new human. Then a third. Even then, we had the ability to impose a grid on life that formed our days and ways. The growing kids occasionally chafed at the grid, and now we are finding that though we meant well in forming our particular grid, we made mistakes along the way. I guess we do our best at the time, making decisions with the factors and convictions in front of us, and then inevitably find that our earnest, horse-blinder determination could have been done better another way. But that is only seen in retrospect, with the benefit of years and wisdom that I didn’t have back in the decision-making moment. In any event, right or wrong, the grid at its best was our attempt to listen to God’s voice rather than the culture’s. At its worst, it was my lazy remote control for an easier life.
And then a moment comes when we realize that while it is good and God-honoring to create the family grid, the grid is no guarantee for a pain-free, perfect life for our children. There will come a day when they don’t take their vitamins and go to bed at 7:30, when at midnight we are lying in bed waiting for the sound of the back door slamming. And until it comes, the heart hammers and the imagination does Oscar-worthy work. There comes a day when their big-people tears show us our failures. That is a good and humbling day because it drives us to our Savior in clear-eyed recognition of our need of Him. We have no illusions of adequacy then; we just see that at our very best we are sinners.
The college-children years are a time of finding peace in the whirlwind of those children all on different trajectories, and very little time with everyone at the dining room table. They are the years of having our hearts spread out on different continents, on airplanes, packing, planning, going, going, going. And it is all good, and it is all completely out of our control. It is like our poor mama cat, Midge, the first time we bring the kittens down from their safe lair to hold them. They are all squawking in different locations and all Midge can do is dart from one to the other and lick them a little comfort.
The decisions kids make at the tender age of 17 are enormous; and we tremble and pray and look up at God and say, “In Your mercy, look at my child! Protect her. Protect him.” And somewhere in there I realize I never had control to begin with! These children, along with every molecule of creation, are His! My job is and has always been not to control the grid, but to trust the heavenly Father of my children. And even to pray the brave prayer my friend Nancy prays – Lord, I am not asking that You make it easy for them. The grid is good; but it is not God.
So we breathe in a prayer for our peace and breathe out a prayer for their safety and growth. And we cook and we keep the candles lit and we goon-smile when we hear their voices on the front walk.
There is a chapter in this phase of parenting that I don’t know yet, that many of my friends do know. It is the chapter called, “Look what God did through your weakness!” It is an amazing chapter. I look forward to reading it.
(photo explanation: the Scottish flag flies awaiting the Easter visit of our Covenant College students)