The Last Child

Today is packing day.

Packing up Rockport.

Packing away summer.

Packing off our two youngest to head early Monday to colleges in New York City and Brookline.

Like most parents I feel a mixture of pride, nostalgia, and relief. We’re given our children as gifts with no guarantees and no exchanges. I’m grateful for this– I’ve no doubt my parents would have traded me in for a better model several times over.

There are times when you feel in your marrow that you’re failing your kid, when you stay up late into the night pleading for mercy and grace. There are other times when you’re downright cocky thinking “I’ve so got this parenting thing covered!” only to fall flat in the next breath.

The last child gets the parent who picks the pacifier up from the floor and pops it in baby’s mouth, hoping no one sees them but pretty sure they wouldn’t care even they were seen. They get the parent who is weary of curfews and just wants their child to be quiet when they sneak in at 2am; the parent who looks at them and softly admits they wish they had tried pot in high school. They get the parent who knows that every picture their child paints is not a Picasso masterpiece, but can still look at it and say “my, isn’t that a lovely shade of blue?”

They get the parent who knows more about grace than they could have ever imagined and can say without hesitation that parenting is “but for grace…”

An opinion piecein the Washington Post written by Michael Gerson eloquently articulated many of the emotions I feel.

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.” From “Saying goodbye to my child; the youngster

So there you have it. I am but a ‘short stage’, a blip if you will, in the life stories of my kids, but a blip who loves them with a fierce, protective, God-given love. A blip ordained by God to share in the awesome and terrible responsibility of parenting.

So the sun sets on the stage where I see my son most every day. Where life is lived in family–in the morning through shared coffee and silence, in the evening through shared meals and discussion.

In all of this I am reminded of the Father who loves with an everlasting love, a love “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable”. *

And the best thing I do as I pack them off is place them where I have placed them countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his children.

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*a phrase used often by my sister-in-law, Tami

20 thoughts on “The Last Child

  1. Great post, Marilyn, thanks (I felt the anguish of leaving summer behind in beautiful Rockport). Sentiments that Chris & I totally relate to, even as our youngest is now a senior in college! These transition times are tough and God uses them to teach us much–like about our on-going need to depend on Him for all we need and our need to continue growing in grace & patience (oh, when will we just have those things down pat and be able to just move on?). At least we can rejoice that we didn’t have to “extrude” our kids just after puberty (as the good Gerson article reminds us was the norm for many)…though I know some have gone through that wrenching experience first-hand (off to the Murree Hills!). The least we can do is keep a space available for them to come back home whenever they feel the need…

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    1. You articulated well what we feel about Rockport! You’ll have to come one of these summers and stay there. We’ve lived a lot of places and Rockport holds a peace and sense of stability for us. Your comment also reminded me of the change/permanence piece that we struggle with. The words from Screwtape to Wormwood say it well: ‘The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them . . . But since He does not wish them to make change . . . an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. . . . [But permanence poses a danger that the devils can exploit]: Prosperity binds a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him . . . a sense of being really at home on Earth . . . The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else.’ “

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      1. Thanks for your note–and for that great quote from Screwtape…or insight from C.S. Lewis. That’s why we’re nomadic at heart and are only passing through (as Larry Norman once said/sang: “We’re only visiting this planet.”). We’ll have to take you up on the Rockport visit sometime…Alex has told us how much he loved hanging out with you guys up there.

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  2. Marilyn,,
    As we leave tomorrow with Hannah, our last, this is a wonderful reminder.We will need to have breakfast, coffee or lunch, dinner or if necessary a midnight snack this fall. This is a tough one for me. The sun and planet article was also good. This really is not the nothing people tell me it is. It is different with the last, especially one who has been an only child for 5 years. Love to you Lib

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    1. Libby – PLEASE let’s have breakfast. I’m free every Friday now. Work 4 10-hour days so let’s get together. Thinking of you today. I loved the sun/planet article as well.

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  3. What a lovely photo of the two of them! Pikalily is turning 11 in a month and already I feel like I am staring down the barrel of losing her babyhood. I know it’s going to be fun having adult kids but I’m also a little bit sad and grieving that her smallness is fast disappearing. Thinking of you as you wave them off to college xx

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    1. Yes! It starts about that age as you realize they are heading to adolescence and then on to young adulthood. Remember how when they hit 9 months we’d look back at new born baby clothes and marvel that they were ever that small?? Multiply that by thousands!

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  4. What a great picture! Can you email it to me? Our two youngest grandchildren,and we are so proud of them, love them so much. And you and Cliff are great parents. Will be thinking of you this week.

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  5. A few days ago, I read in the devotional Jesus Calling, “Entrust your loved ones to me; release them into My protective care. They are much safer with Me than in your clinging hands.” I struggled with this. Although I know this in my mind, my heart often holds on. I know it is best to place them in God’s hands, yet I fool myself into thinking that I can help them, save them from pain and heartache.

    I will be praying for you tomorrow morning.

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  6. It’s a beautiful essay, Marilyn. I’m not looking forward to those moments with my kids but I know that they will come…sooner than I want admit. But it’s a process, a natural process and you are doing a wonderful job as mother! I send you a virtual hug ;-)

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    1. And I feel that virtual hug! Thank you so much. And you’re right about the process. They’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and there is a gratitude in that. How old are yours?

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      1. Mine are 7 and 10.5, still “young”. But time flies and I hope that I’ll be “ready” when they will be leaving. And if we, as parents, are confident that they’ll be ready, I guess this helps a lot too.

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  7. Thank you for sharing that essay with us, Marilyn. I am always relieved that I did something right when they can take care of themselves and deeply sad that they don’t need me in the same way any more. I turn them over to God constantly and revel when they are home. Have you read this essay? http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/08/27/i_was_the_sun_the_kids_were_my_planets/ It’s from a few years back but someone always shares it again around this time of year.

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    1. I love that article! I remember finding it last year (when it resurfaced) Thanks for the link for others to read. You word this really well – relief and sadness.

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