To Honk Or Not To Honk: A Parenting Victory

Looking back over the years, as I am doing right now from a newly empty nest, I had one intuitive parenting victory that I want to share with you who still have your kids at home so that down the road you too can rejoice and not kick yourself:

I did not honk my horn at my children. 

I get that some people are honkers; for them an aggressive laying on the horn is just a great communication tool, and they’d be surprised anyone thought any deeper about it. But for the rest of us . . .

Sunday morning. The girls were off to college, only the boy was at home, and because his bones grew an inch a month, or so it seemed, he slept like the dead. And even deader on Sundays. He seemed to understand it was the day of Sabbath rest.

He didn’t really ‘wake up’ as much as slowly surface, like a log released from a river bottom. All that rapid bone growth required hot abundant protein in the morning – like eggs and cheese and bacon. But he only had time to grab a granola bar along with his tie, belt, socks, and shoes, all to be put on in the car.

Six feet, three inches plus his hair, folded in half, and accessorizing in a Fiat.  I rode to church with Mr. Bean.

I assume he grabbed the granola bar; I never saw him do so because I was always sitting in the car by that time waiting, and that is the point of my story. I like to get to church early, especially if I am teaching a Sunday school class. I talk to a lot of people on Sundays, and my nerves just need my ducks in a row.

Anyway, I waited, chomping at the bit, and every Sunday I had to make a choice while sitting in the Fiat. To honk or not to honk, that was the question. He was inside feeling no sense of urgency whatsoever, and my legs were both cramped from holding down the clutch and the brake in first gear, ready to go. And I waited, and the back door never opened. Whether t’was nobler in mind to wait it out or honk the heck out of the horn, aye, there’s the rub.

Preaching to myself, I would say, “Just be patient. Honking is rude and dehumanizing. Civilized people get out, go in, and say mildly, ‘Are you coming?’” But once buckled in to the AC’d car, I wasn’t getting back out, civilized or no, so I would decide I had every good reason to honk and reach my hand to do it, and then decide not to, and Civilized and Uncivilized would war for awhile before the back door would finally slam and he would appear, grinning and at peace with the world. And I was always glad I hadn’t honked.

But I was never so glad I hadn’t honked as I was the first Sunday he was off to college and I walked out the door, got in the car, backed out, and drove to church. Oh the sad, sad, convenience of it all. Oh, the untethered, unwanted earliness. Woohoo, I didn’t have to wait! Boohoo, I wished I had to wait! And as I mourned freely all the way to church I comforted myself knowing that I had not honked my horn at him. At least I had that.

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A Mom In Transition

P.S. (One week later – wearing huge photo-booth party glasses and popping a confetti cannon) Empty nest is fun!!  “Limbo, limbo, limbo, cha-cha, limbo . . .”

P.P.S. I read a recent good article urging us to be careful writing about our children.  I used care with this and meant to spotlight my retrospective relief rather than the college boy’s foibles.  Some context was necessary.

Keeping The Candles Lit


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)