Sounds of Silence
Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Here in Memphis the crowd is beginning to mourn the 36th anniversary of the death of Elvis. I, however, sit shiva on my own-- not mourning the passing of a person, but an epoch. My last little bird has fled the nest. Prematurely. And I have a confession to make: I wasn't ready.
But first, some backstory: as God willed it, I didn't meet my husband until I was thirty-four. My biological clock wasn't ticking, it was booming like Big Ben, and we got pregnant literally on the honeymoon. Nine months later enter Sarah ( "Princess" in Hebrew), a kid without a regal bone in her body.
Sarah is a rowdy, rollicking, party-in-motion who never met a stranger and, as a child, constantly needed a change of scenery. A kid that I retrieved off the top of the refrigerator when she was barely two. A kid that, if I turned my back for an instant, could be three blocks away. A kid that regularly approached total strangers in the grocery and asked if she could go home with them. (I lived a lot of years expecting to have child protective services at my door.)
Some kids march to their own drummer. Sarah polkas. A friend of hers recently sent her a picture of twenty little girls at a ballet lesson, nineteen with their feet dutifully on the barre, practicing. The other is hanging upside from the barre, and the captions reads; "There are two kinds of people in the world: You. And everyone else."
Four years (and three miscarriages) later, enter Abigail. (Hebrew "for source of joy", a name that seemed particularly apt after three miscarriages). Abigail, from the beginning, was a consummate princess, given to acting out her favorite Disney princess scenes for hours at a time, and asking, at the age of four, for daily reassurance on the way to preschool that she was truly was a princess, the daughter of a king and queen. I, of course, indulged her, till the day, contentedly contemplating her royalty, as usual, she suddenly demanded in an extremely shocked voice, "Momma!? Where are my servants?!"
Her fantasy shattered, she moved on to more pragmatic matters. A few weeks later, after a long period of silence from the back seat, she finally ventured another question: "Mom? Do pigs poop curly?"
Contemplative, quiet, and sweet (but driven) Abby graces everyone who makes the effort to know her.
Sarah went off to college two years ago.
We moved Abby to school Saturday morning. A Mississippi public high school which is also a boarding school. Two and a half hours away.
Here's the deal, the Bible compares our children to arrows in a quiver:
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them." (Psalm 127:3)
Someone told me once that a quiver held twelve arrows.
We got a late start and fell far short of having our 'quiver full'.
But the issue at hand is not really how many arrows you have. Arrows aren't made to decorate the quiver, they're made to fly. So the issue isn't really how many you have, it's how effectively you shoot them. And I think the biggest issue in parenting is when exactly to let them fly.
When to shoot them off into a fallen, God-mocking world prepared to be, like Daniel, in the world but not of it.
When to take God at His word when He says that when He begins a good work in someone, He completes it. (Philippians 1:6)
When to trust that what you planted in them will bear fruit and send them off to be the witness to the world that He intends us all to be.
Here's the thing: Abby just turned sixteen.
I realize, of course, that Daniel was probably younger when he upstaged Nebuchadnezzar. And Mary was probably younger when she had her encounters with the angel and the Holy Spirit. And Joseph was quite possibly younger when he was sold into Egypt. And David was younger when he was named king.
But she's barely sixteen.
Another confession: I'm not actually worried about her. She'll be challenged and happy and well taken care of.
I'm afraid for me. The silence that I've craved for twenty years suddenly threatens to overwhelm me. My job description is suddenly kind of fuzzy. A sinkhole, as it were, seems to have suddenly swallowed my life. And, curiously, I'm filled with regret.
A poem I once came across has been forever burned in my memory:
"Mrs. Meant-to had a comrade, and her name was Didn't Do. Did you ever chance to meet them? Did they ever call on you? These two ladies live together in the house of Never Win, and I'm told the it is haunted by the ghost of Might-Have-Been."
That's a ghost that's been haunting me in the weeks leading up to Abby's departure. I meant to teach my kids every Scripture song I know. I meant to teach them to quilt. I meant to, but time just slips through your fingers and then twenty years has flown by and they're gone.
In the working world of today, I've discovered, every project is followed by a meeting in which the 'Lessons Learned' are determined and recorded. For what it's worth, for those still beginning or in the midst of parenting, here are my lessons learned:
No parent is perfect, but love truly covers over a lot of sins. The secret to parenting, I think, can be summed up by;
1) living out the example you want to set and staying close enough to your kids so that they see it.
2) Don't beat yourself up for the kind of parent you're not. I was not the Mom that drove carpool or brought cupcakes in. (I was the kind of Mom that made a castle, the pyramids of Giza, and the Alamo out of Rice Crispy treats.) Give your kids the best of who you are. They deserve it.
3) This is somewhat of a challenge in parenting, but remember that the goal of our instruction is love. Yes, we need to train up our children, but the goal of that instruction is love. Apply the love chapter to parenting: Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. I homeschooled for seven years and I know my kids heard nothing but clanging (many times) when my temper had taken over.
About five years ago I bought two identical pieces of cross-stitching that recorded this mother's sentiment in beautiful floral calligraphy:
"Your mother's love goes with you, everywhere, you know. Be sure you never take it where it shouldn't go."
Obviously the work of some mother who, for whatever reason, never got around to framing and presenting them to her own offspring, a testament to the fact that motherhood is the poster child for the old adage that; "life is what happens while you are making other plans".
I snatched them up, eager to frame them and give them two my own two daughters when they left the nest. They're still laying on my dresser, unframed, upstairs. But, thank God, love covers over a multitude of sins.
Here in Memphis, Abby has left the building.
And her momma cries.
Thanks for indulging my catharsis. Next week science again, I promise!
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: Subatomic Spandex
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