Days seemed long and tedious when I was a young mother, even as the unsteady but unstoppable growth of children offered evidence that time was fleeting. Milestones of birthdays, graduations, and first days of school served as standards of comparison. Photos of those events, posted side by side, poignantly documented that the tedium of chores did not slow the passing of time.
My children’s grandparents observed the changes in our children at a distance, without benefit of Skype, FaceTime, or digital pictures via email. Unable to witness the slow progression taking place day to day, they were stunned by the physical changes that presented on their biannual visits. Great Grandmother Ziegler loved to sew for the girls but took up quilting when they regularly grew out of the dresses before wearing them.
Now sharing a house with our daughter and her sons, we experience the same incongruity of time. A short period of absence awakens me to the boys’s physical maturity and underlines their emotional and spiritual development. Daily changes are invisible, but returning home from five days out of town, I was startled to see my pre-adolescent grandsons visibly taller.
On one particular day, their mother out of town and I was responsible as the late elementary-age boys were preparing for school. I had set the table for breakfast to mimic the presence of their mother. Mowgli, the younger, is most affected by his mother’s absence and scowled when I offered him his favorite bacon. Introverted Blue Boy, two years older, had learned to feign sociability, leaning his head toward me when I offered a hug.
Recalling my childhood discomfort in school, I was at the door to wish them well as they left the house. Mowgli allowed me a semblance of an embrace when he ran out early to play with friends before school. In typical teen boy fashion, Blue Boy allowed no time to spare and offhandedly acknowledged my “Go with God” blessing as I held the door for him to blaze through.
My eyes followed him as he dragged his book bag across the patio and into the yard toward the wall which he would climb over to access the sidewalk. He walked with bowed head, his eyes on his phone.
And there it was. A flash of love charged my core, igniting memories of each of my children as they walked away at various times in their lives. First day of school, going out with friends, high school commencement, college, wedding, moving out, and hundreds of other separations. The pain of letting go while wanting to hang on. The pain of pride in their independence but longing for their dependence. The pain of loving them more than anything and more than they can ever love me. The pain of love.
The lyrics of a song stirred the heartache: where are you going, my little one?
The concept of time is skewed because that memory is vivid, but the calendar reveals it is now years later. Blue Boy prepares for college and Mowgli for tech school. I am insisting on accompanying our daughter as she drives her first child 100+ miles away from home, 100+ miles closer to permanent separation. I insist because I know how hard it is to watch your baby walk toward a new life. I insist because I don’t want her to be alone as she feels proud and forgotten. I insist because as he walks toward his future, he will be unaware that he is walking away from her, breaking her heart. I insist because even as I write, a secondary character in this scene, I am sobbing. I need to see him in his new life so I know where to send my love.
This could be a cautionary tale about sharing a house with your grandchildren. There is no buffer of time and space in a multi-family household. You are witness to all the joys, yes, but also the heartaches and struggles of growing up. Your heart is in their hands, and blessedly, they don’t know it. This journey away from home is only one of many. There will be many more tears in the future.
Where are you going, my little one? My heart will be with you.
*Parts of this article were from a previous post.