Now, almost nineteen years later, I find myself in a similar situation. In a few months my first child will leave home, abandoning me for parts as yet unknown. I wonder (and worry a bit….okay, a lot) about it. How is it going to work out? Having grown up as member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), I am very familiar with the process in general; women have children, the children grow up, and then serve missions. I have seen the process countless times. Suddenly, however, it is very personal and I wonder/worry about it. A lot.
Two weeks ago, Chick and I were sitting in a doctor’s office together when I noticed that his pants were dirty, as in very NOT clean. “Chick,” said I, “your jeans are dirty.”
“So you don’t wear dirty clothes to school.” (He was headed to class after the appointment.)
Why not? His question was sincere. Why not wear dirty jeans to school? One should change one’s shirt frequently but jeans……What is the problem with wearing dirty jeans?
I have not taught him the importance of wearing clean clothes. There are so many things I have not taught him, like to brush his teeth twice a day (or even once a day) or to make his bed. Clean room…….What’s that? Organization………..It is a nice concept but still very abstract for him; awesome idea but lacking application. Picking up after himself, returning borrowed items, putting clean clothes in drawers ….all of these are foreign to him.
What will his mission companions think of his mother, I ask myself in despair. What will his mother think of his mother?
I must admit the answer to that last question is not kind. How could my fail be so epic to teach my son things that are so basic? There should be a Little Brown Handbook of Motherhood or something that tells moms to teach things like:
- Brushing teeth is a good thing….every day….TWICE!
- Dirty dishes belong in the sink….or in the dishwasher….NOT in the living room.
- Made beds make moms happy and happy moms make kids happy.
- If it is not yours, don’t eat it. Yes, this does apply to the bag of candy that was left on the counter (and the chocolate chips hidden in the cupboard).
- Carpeting your bedroom with clothes, dirty or clean, is not acceptable.
- If you do it now, I will not nag you about it later.
- Doing homework and turning it in eliminates a lot of future problems.
Actually there probably is a Little Brown Handbook of Motherhood (or something like it) out there somewhere. In fact I am confident there are many books (and blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos) out there that give moms great advice. The problem was that I was too busy changing diapers, fixing dinners, and doing laundry to find them, much less read them.
Attending the weekly Toddler Hiking Club and library Story Times also kept me busy as did playing Monopoly and doing PTA Reflections contest entries and science fair projects. Chick and I may not have been busy making his bed but we were busy making others things…..things less tangible but just as real….things like memories, relationships, respect….
Recalling the memories and reviewing our relationship, I realize that my assessment of both myself and my son is short-sighted and unfair. He may not put his clothes away but he does put my clothes away when I ask him to. In fact, he does everything I ask him to and, even more gratifying, he does it willingly and with a good attitude. Chick is my go-to man; whenever I need something done, I go to him because he will do whatever it is I ask…….. without rolling his eyes, telling me that he did it last time, or suggesting that I ask Tanah instead.
“Chick, will you run downstairs and get a can of tomatoes?”
“Chick, will you take the out the recycling?”
“Chick, Book Club is coming today. Will you vacuum the living room?”
This boy/man of mine tells me he loves me at least daily, hugs me almost as frequently, and chats passionately with me about books, Magic cards, and super heroes. He tenderly hugs our elderly ex-neighbor and willingly rough houses with our rowdy nephews. When he blesses the Sacrament, his deep voice resonates with reverence and respect. His intelligence brings insight to our scripture study and his wit brings laughter to our Family Home Evenings. He volunteers to do Grace’s dishes when she is overwhelmed and plays cards with Miles when he is bored. Friday evening, during an intense movie moment in the theater (someone shot Nick Fury!!), he offered me his hand to hold and squeeze.
What will I do without him? Who will mow the lawn? Prune the fruit trees? Bounce out of his chair and run around the room when the movie gets exciting? Drive to the store to buy strawberries for the dinner salad? Hike Ben Lomond with me? Cackle loudly at Lance’s jokes?
My son has learned many things; most of them more important than wearing clean jeans. His mission companions will be lucky men and I think his mother is a very lucky woman…..which brings me back to the questions with which I started. How will it be for me when he leaves? How will I make it through? I reassure myself with the truth that millions of mothers have gone through this process—the removing of one’s child from one’s home—before and, if they can do it, so can I. I don’t know how they do it—it seems a bit unfathomable at the moment—but I find strength in the conviction that the way had been successfully navigated by those who had gone before me. And, as it was when I was largely pregnant, I do not have much choice at this point. EEK!
May God bless us all!
[Photos by Devin Garner, PhD]