I went into my daughter’s bedroom to leave her mail on her desk, a paycheck to add to all the others she’s saved for college. I noticed her desk was cleared and organized, and I glanced around her room to see that she put all her things in order, picked up all the clothes off the ground, and made her bed. A fresh wave of relief fell over me as I once again realized how much she has grown during this pivotal last year at home. Watching her mature in so many ways and witnessing all the progress taking place, has been the most incredible part of parenting my teen.
She’s developed a new sense of responsibility for her things and a new sense of accountability for herself. It’s as if the natural order of life has unfolded before my eyes, as she continues to transform into this young adult, full of goals and dreams she is carefully creating for herself and she has learned that hard work and mindful intention are the keys to her success.
I can’t remember when things started to change. I can’t identify any specific moment when it all became so clear and I saw her in an entirely different way. Growing up is a slow, sometimes grueling, but always glorious process with our kids, and the realization that they have somehow made great strides, and in some way learned so much, and will someday do great things, comes in these unpredictable waves of utter joy. And this was one of those times.
I sat on her bed and stared at all the special memorabilia she’s kept through the years. One by one, I took them all in, items from important moments in her life, surrounded by countless photos hanging off strips of string, presenting a vast array of people and places she embraces, and experiences that trace the timeline of her teen years.
I lost myself in her life story, told through all her things, as all the details of her past flashed through my mind, chasing each memory after another in a flurry, flooding my heart with overwhelming emotion.
Through the years, she’s transformed this room, changing the wall colors, and décor to fit her maturing personality. All the shelves, once stocked with children’s books, now hold a budding collection of new books on topics she is passionate about, journals she fills with her writing, and an extraordinary assortment of items that define who she is now. She’s taken down framed pictures and mementos that documented her childhood and replaced them with all the more current memories she’d rather remember. But I notice a few of her baby pictures still on one shelf, and I’m so grateful she holds onto that part of herself.
This room, all of it, is her. And as I sit on her bed and soak it all in, every detail and every part of who she is, I’m overcome with a mix of gratitude and sadness, delight and despair, all wrapped tightly around one another, creating a knot in my heart so constricted, the only way I can relieve the pressure is to cry, to empty it all out in this unpredictable raw moment. I didn’t want to leave her room. I wanted to stay there, holding on to everything she was, everything she is, because I know this room- who she was and who she is- will fade into the future soon.
And in this moment of time, I don’t want anything to change.
But as raising a child goes, it transforms over and over again, turning layers upon layers of life, moving us forward in meticulous motion. Within all the ages and stages of parenting, we are handed more to learn, as we frantically figure out how to care for our kids while they miraculously grow into themselves and set out on their own.
Raising this precious child of mine has been a gift and I’m not willing to give her away. I want to hold onto it all, hold onto her, and yet, my grip has already loosened more and more every day. I’ve lived with the constant conflict of grasping on to what I can while peeling my fingers off of her hand, one by one because she doesn’t need me to hold onto it any longer. She’s gradually figured out how to walk through life alone. She can find her way all on her own.
This season seems surreal, it all happened so fast. Everyone warns you about this part of parenting, and yet, it still feels so sudden, as if I’ve just screeched around some random bend in the road that wasn’t on the map, leading me into new territory filled with barren terrain and I’m panicked and perplexed at the idea of having to travel through it on my own. I want to go back and study how others survived this dessert of dropping your baby off at college hundreds of miles away and going home to your life completely changed.
I wonder what she will take with her when she goes? What will she leave behind? How much of her bedroom will remain the same and how much will change? I start to envision how this room, where she’s lived most of her life, will look when she’s gone. All the shelves that were once packed with special things will be empty and her bed that was once filled with all her beautiful pillows and blankets will be bare. I imagine blank walls, once bursting with color, and a vacant closet, with only dangling hangers left with disheveled, discarded clothes.
I’m struggling to accept the scarcity of this room without everything she’s carefully collected and put on display. I can’t quite process what this really means. I don’t want this room to be empty of her, where she’s always been, and I’m unable to allow my mind to go where she’ll soon be. And yet, when I try really hard to envision her on her own, creating a new room full of new things to add to what old things she brings…
I’m swept up once again, into another swell of emotions, trying to piece together her future filled with gifts I can’t give and memories I won’t live. I will only hear about it all and relish every story she shares, but I won’t be in it with her, I won’t be able to witness it all take place, I won’t be able to experience all the vivid details I would give anything to see. Far too soon, her life will be entirely hers, and I will be left at home with her abandoned room, trying not to feel abandoned too.
After 18 years of being embedded in all the intricate moments of her life and having her presence surround me day and night, this will be an agonizing release.
What will she take with her?
What will she leave behind?
What will stay the same and what will change?
I don’t know the answers. I can only pray she remembers all I’ve tried to teach her and all I’ve tried to say. I can only hope she’ll hold onto the memories that documented her history and gradually defined her identity.
I’m pretty sure much of everything will change, and yet, I don’t know how and I don’t know what to do with this uncertainty. I’m just not sure how I will manage the straining stretch of my love and the impossible leap of letting her go. So, into the desolate desert I’ll wander, and those who have gone before me will surely light the way.
Within all the details that develop as this transition unfolds, what she remembers and what she chooses to forget, however, she holds the story of her life, I only hope and pray she’ll be certain of my love- for that is the one constant, the one anchor, the one truth that will always be threaded through it all.
And when her room is empty of her and all her things…
My love will be here with her and there with her, and everywhere she goes.
It’s rooted in her history. It’s penned the pages of her past and it will echo through the chapters of her future that she has yet to write.
And when I visit her new room far away, I hope and pray I find remnants of the love I’ve poured into her and the love that will follow her all the days of her life.