Resting on the roots of an old oak, I leaned back against its knotted trunk to consider the passing of time. I felt, in those moments of nostalgia, a small resurgence of my five-year-old self…a quiet little warrior of a girl, reminding me of who I was before time told me otherwise. My children, no longer small, came to mind in snapshots of their youth. The fiercely impish eyes and graham-crackery hands of my boys, and the magnetic smile and thick honey-kissed curls of my beautiful girl running wild among the flowering trees full of dreams and lilting laughs. On days like this, I would have given anything to keep them little. To freeze in time the days they ran, they touched, they learned, and they played. They have outgrown me far faster than I have outgrown them.
For the five adolescents in my home, everything seems too big. Their hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their strength, nor do they know reason or restraint. It is an alluring place; they are old enough to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives, yet at the same time too young to have acquired the judgment to make consistently sound choices.
And so, in this juncture of parenting, what I am finding is that failure is instructive. It isn't something to be guarded against at all cost, though my parental instinct says otherwise. So often in life what we perceive as an error or a failure is a gift. Down the road, though the cost can be great, we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove indispensable. Even imposing losses are powerful lessons.
My instinct as a mother is to keep my children safe at the water's edge, timidly grasping at what happens to float by. But to allow a deliberate step into the unsettled water is a far better choice. Growing up means learning what life is, and pain is an irksome part of being human. For so many years I believed that to live a happy life, everything needed to be perfect. But the vital privilege afforded to a less than perfect child is the deep understanding that despite the reckless abandon of adolescence, and the often costly consequences that follow, they are loved nonetheless. I have, in this tenuous and unpredictable parenting season, become a safe place to land.
But this solo mama is bone weary. The weight of motherhood independent of a partner is heavy and cumbersome. There is no one to pass the baton to on particularly grueling days, nor is there another equally invested with which to share the great delights and triumphs of growing human beings. I am my biggest critic. Before anyone else has criticized me, I have already criticized myself a thousand times over. But in the moments that I feel unequipped and ill-prepared, there is grace. When the ideals, standards, and dreams don't seem to line up with reality, there is grace. When I fall prey to comparison and envy, as I so often do, there is grace. In the tumult of this adolescent season, I am learning to embrace this little mess of a life with my children. No matter how hard it gets, even on the days, I greet the world with a tear stained face and a questioning heart, I will continue to connect and guide with the knowledge that I too am prone to wander.
Parenting emerging people is an adventure. It is the age that they will be broken or built. I do not wish for them to fear change or to be satisfied with the pond that they are in. If they never venture out of it, they will never get a glimpse of the ocean. My job is to provide the right conditions for growth, to cultivate the ground, to plant the seeds, and to water the earth. And then I watch…covered in soil and dripping wet, as they navigate the sun and wind required to grow.
In these moments, as Mother's Day looms large, that I feel invisible and insignificant, stretched too thin and all used up, I remember that I can do hard things. Because for all the seeds sown in this growing season there will be gardens grown in seasons to come.
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