I remember when our oldest girls first came to live with us. They were 5 years old and 20 months old. Zero kids to 2 overnight, and we had a week of adjustment before my husband had to go away for a weekend youth retreat. I still panic a little just recalling those moments, and the years that followed. Every summer it was a week away, sometimes more. There was the weekend winter retreat, then a few others thrown in here and there. It’s usually true that everything hits the fan when one parent goes away (and many parents are away MUCH more), but when you are working through very hard things with kiddos who have had lots of goodbyes and they haven’t all been pleasant? Well, it’s not always fun to be the one who gets to regulate that!
Anyway, in those early days, we survived by keeping busy. When Daddy went away, we did staycation stuff. We went to Lake Tobias to the animal farm. We did Chocolate World, Oregon Dairy Days, Hands on House, Crayola Experience, the cheap movies, day camps, and more. The cost of survival was high those days, quite literally! My in-laws, my parents, church friends and family…everyone helped. The first two summers we had our littlest were probably the hardest. She didn’t sleep well and got an ear infection with every tooth, and all of the things were still hitting the fan when we were down a parent. Managing with two parents was difficult, managing with one felt impossible.
Fast forward to this week… our oldest is able to be away with her dad because she’s IN MIDDLE SCHOOL (WHAT?!). We can’t take day trips anymore because we need to be around for Grandma and Grandpa. By God’s grace, in this stage of life, that’s not as hard as it would have been 4 years ago. I still know my limits and what the kids need, so day camp was the thing this week. Could we have done without it? Yes. Was it nice to not have to? My GOODNESS, yes. There are SO MANY words every day and when I’m the only set of ears…On top of the other responsibilities of living here, having this break every day and having time to get a bigger project completed was life-giving.
Here’s the thing. I was drowning during those early years. They were the hardest years of my life. But now, just 4-7 years later, I would do it all over again. I would absolutely go back because those hard years have brought the most beautiful fruit. Even without the extra hard stuff, those early years are hard for a mom. No sleep, diapers, all of the mom guilt thanks to the internets… BLECH.
Know that the years ahead are hard, but a different kind of hard. I’m finding that what’s really important in parenting older kids is remembering that they are in need of everyday grace, just like me. (Sidebar: Sometimes the expectations we place on our kids and other peoples kids are ridiculous. What were you like in those years? I was an emotional hot mess. I get that we want our kids to be great, but they can’t be great when they’re older if they don’t get the grace and space they need when they’re younger, you know?)
Anyway, we’re at the end of this week. The kids are alright. I am alright. In a few hours my husband is going to get home, exhausted from a week with middle school kids. My daughter will get home, exhausted but over the top with stories and experiences and I will have to listen to what happened each day as she goes through the week with me, down to what she had for snack EVERY DAY at The Apple Tree. And I will do my best to listen, because someone once told me that I can’t expect her to come to me with the big things if I don’t hear the little things.
I found a lot of pictures of our oldest while I was cleaning out the basement this week, and it made me feel a lot of things. Most of all, I wish I could go back and tell myself just how worth it all of the hard things would be. And when I see the chubby cheeks of our middlest in old photos, then see the long and lean girl she’s growing into, I get a little sad…it’s going so fast. She’s growing so much and I want to grab onto the moments while I can. And our littlest…well, she’s still in the chubby cheek phase but it’s coming to a close. I can see her growing and now I know why the youngest really does get more. A.) because parents are just tired, and B.) because all of a sudden parents realize they won’t ever do this again and they want to enjoy every last bit. Good thing for us is that she won’t ever let us miss her-she’s good at making her presence known.
I said I would never be a mom who told other moms to enjoy every moment. And it’s true. You can’t enjoy every single moment. But I’ll say this-good or bad, those moments fly by. These are the days. There will be a different kind of joy when we have an empty nest, but neither one of us are ready for that yet. It’ll be good-we believe that. This season is good, too, though.