This morning I drove my two children to the airport. Both of them – the pre-teen and the teen-ager -were excited about traveling on their own aboard a plane to visit their aunt and uncle and cousin. When the plane started boarding, I hugged them both and turned to leave (Actually, I hid behind a column for a few more minutes until I was absolutely sure they were on the plane and then I left.)
I felt sad. I will miss them greatly during this week and the house will seem a little too big and a little too quiet. But I have to admit to feeling a bit of joyful anticipation – what a gift it is to have a little extra down time and a little more freedom from the demands of daily life. It seems like such a whirlwind here at times, with a never ending cavalcade of door bells and phones ringing, dogs barking and cell phones doing that weird vibrating thing.
When I go below the surface of my immediate feelings, however, I sense that this small letting go is a glimpse into a larger movement in the parenting life. Lately at Mass on Sunday, while I’m at prayer after receiveing the Eucharist, I imagine myself gently bringing my children to Jesus. He’s always smiling and his arms are outstretched to greet them and he always looks at me with that certain twinkle in his eye as if to say, “It’s OK, Jim. I know how much you love them and I love them even more. Don’t be afraid to let go.” I think that the reason for my Eucharistic imaginings is that I need to keep practicing this letting go. So that I can give my children permission to grow up- more than that, my blessing upon their growing up.
Here’s what’s so ironic. When my wife first told me that we were going to have a baby more than 16 years ago, my reaction was stone cold panic. (She has not quite forgiven me for this yet, I think.) My God, I could barely take care of myself. And now I was supposed to welcome this perfect little soul into the certainly not perfect and very large mess that is my life? How could I not screw that up? It would have been easy to let my fear get the best of me, run for the hills, and let go with a great sigh of relief.
But now….well it turns out that, yes, my life is a big imprefect mess but it’s a holy mess. And even messy holiness is infused with the Grace of God and the unmistakeable presence of Christ. And so I have come to feel that due to the loving support of my wife and my willingness to jump into this parenthood thing and muddle through as best I can that maybe I haven’t screwed them up so much. Maybe I’ve even learned to love them with a love that at times goes beyond a self-centered kind of love into a reasonable facsimile of unconditional love. And my life has never been fuller or richer.
And now – It’s time to say good-bye to all our company? Well, not yet – there are still miles of teen-age angst to wade through. Driver’s Ed classes are still in the future – although no longer in the distant future. And we’ve really only strated to seriously talk about college. But there’s a point on a beautiful sunny day when you become aware that more of the day is behind you than in front of you and you’ve left the morning and entered the afternoon. And I think we’re about at that place in the parenting life.
Life is a series of hellos and good-byes Billy Joel says. But what is the right mix of sadness and joy one ought to experience in hearing this news? And is it possible that what seems the rhythm of Hello and Good-bye is actually the beating heart of God?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)