Disappearing children

When I was a young adult I cross-stitch a clever quote, added  photos of myself and my siblings, framed it, and gave it to my mom.  She loved it and promptly hung it on her wall. Here’s the quote:

Disappearing“A child is someone

who passes through your life

and then

disappears in an adult.”

At the time it just seemed like a fun saying, but now, a generation later when I’m not the one doing the disappearing act anymore, that quote sucker punched me.

Like most little girls, I had longed to grow up and be a mama.  I had img030my doll, and my sister had hers.  (Those were the days when we each only had one.)  We bathed them, we fed them, we tucked them in a night (well, sorta) my mom sewed dresses for them, and we unconditionally loved them.  However, we grew up, the dolls didn’t.  Eventually they got dusty and, I assume, discarded.  So much for love.

img371A few more years slid by and I met my prince charming.  After two years of wedded bliss, we decided to forgo birth control only to struggle, unexpectedly,  with infertility.  After a successful surgery to correct my severe endometriosis, I had three boys within 3-1/2 years.

I stayed at home with them, bathed them, fed them, tucked them in at night,  purchased lots of matchy-matchy clothes for them and well, unconditionally loved them.  At times it was pure joy.  Other times I felt like Charlie Brown’s friend, PigPen who had the constant cloud of dust around him…except for me it was dust AND KIDS!  But, like I said, I had always longed to be a mama, so  I really liked my life.

And then, the sucker punch happened: they disappeared into adults.  One by one they marched out of their diapers, grew hair on their legs, got driver’s licenses, packed for college and disappeared.  Poof.  Gone.

But wasn’t that ultimately the goal?  When we were presented with these cute, little, ‘perfect’ babies, we focused on the family, we pray that they would be healthy, good, and godly, all the while knowing (and hoping) that they would survive, and even thrive, independent of us.  It’s normal and natural and suppose to, eventually, take place.  (After all, we really, really don’t want them sticking around.  More than two adults under one roof is, uh, work.)  

But what about MOMMA?  I had always wanted to be a MOMMA, and now, well, I wasn’t.  YES, I was still a MOTHER, but that word was now a noun not a verb.  There was nothing left to do.

I  found myself with photo-filled shoeboxes, a lot less laundry, and a very quiet house. Suddenly I was entering new relationships with three grown men.  That is, suddenly after each one of my adult sons told me to stop saying, “I miss my little {respective son’s name}.”

I quickly learned that if I VERBED them, they were around less.  If I just NOUNED, everything leveled out.  But I digress…

Their disappearing acts came in such quick succession:  Number one son moved to Nashville for his new post-graduate job where he met and married his fair-maiden (I got a daughter in that deal!)  Number two son graduated and got a job in Birmingham, only to be promoted within his first six months and, like in a whirl-wind, moved to Atlanta (two hours closer to us but still one hour from us.)  Last year, number three son decided school wasn’t his forte (his restlessness had already given that away) and left for a yearlong, around-the-world mission trip.

But, since I am legally an adult (and have been for a few years), I regrouped and got my bearings.  And then, as I became increasingly comfortable with my children having disappeared, an extraordinary series of events happened within one week:  IMG_3978

Firstly, my husband and I went to Thailand to visit our number three son at his request.  (The powers-that-be of his mission trip gave all of the participants the option of inviting their parents to come visit for five days.) We spent those five days chatting in coffee shops, solving the world’s problems in restaurants, and chit-chatting while strolling down the streets of Chiang Mai.  It was unhurried, uncomplicated, and, well, sweet.

IMG_3761On the Saturday after we got home we met number two son in downtown Atlanta for a long leisurely lunch and to run a few errands.  He asked about the details of our trip, talked about how his job was going and then casually mentioned that he missed our frequent phone convos and texts.  Nice.  It was unhurried, uncomplicated, and, well, sweet.

And then, three nights later, my first son who was in town for business, came over for a home-cooked meal.  After we ate, he threw his feet up on the recliner and petted the dog while we discussed what was going on IMG_3957inside of all three of us.  He is wearing a lot of hats and is purposed with each of his many roles.  It was good for us to hear his heart. Our time was unhurried, uncomplicated, and, well, sweet.

Though the black hole that my three babies disappeared into seemed dastardly, the process has spit out something quite nice.  I kinda had to ‘stand-up,’ though, in order to notice.

IMG_3954My oldest is a master at embracing the space that he is in right at this very moment, and he does it better than anyone that I know.  Whether he is working, or hunting, or climbing, or having a casual conversation with a friend, or loving his wife he throws his heart, and soul and spirit into that moment with great ZEST and without distraction.  Over the years he has been my number one cheerleader in encouraging me to try new things without fear of failure.  I wonder if he knows that when I grow up, I want to have at least a portion of that zest for life?

DSC_0678My middle son loves people well.  He has a several long-term friends and purposes to continue investing in these ongoing relationships.  He also has a knack for connecting with certain people that some may consider abrasive (or verbose or insecure or gangly, and/or  arrogant.)  He is not put-off by them and he has a unique gift of endearing himself to them with no hope of personal gain.  He is a good listener, very patient and uncommonly kind to them.  And he loves them well.  I have gleaned more than he knows from watching him not walk away (…walking away being something I tend to do if my given-love is not reciprocated in like fashion).  He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother, even if his “feeler” says otherwise.

DSC_0758My youngest is rather hippyish:  Long hair, mismatched clothes, gleaming-clear eyes, big smile, artsy, funny, free spirit…you get the picture.  Thankfully, he bathes.  He also cares, deeply for his Creator (of which he enjoys in a way I have seen few do so.)  He cares not one wit what others think of him, but he profoundly cares about knowing God and doing what He wants.  He also enjoys making people think about the way they do (or don’t love) God.  He doesn’t know it, but he inspires me to creep closer into God’s presence.  I see, in my son, that I may be missing something.

Watching children disappear into adults is not for the faint of heart.  That black hole has all the potential for darkness and distance without any guardrails.

But, I have realized  that actually doing the disappearing ain’t so easy either…


“If ya can’t hold on, hold on.”    (All These Things That I’ve Done, The Killers)

fam jam

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14 thoughts on “Disappearing children

  1. Karen, that was absolutely lovely!! Sam is my first to leave for any length of time. Her sister Danielle is 10 months younger and working two jobs. I don’t see her much. My four boys are here… in my face here. So I’m a ways away from what you’re experiencing. I gotta tell you I’ve been dreading it. The empty nest thing. But your blog has encouraged me. Thank you. Xoxo

  2. I will never forget the time you told me to enjoy my children when they were young, that time passes quickly, that teenagers can be more work. You are so wise, my friend! And, I am thankful to still glean from that wisdom while I watch you enter a life stage just before I do. Of course, in my case, I think this is happening in two parts with my two sets of kids. Love you Karen!

  3. Karen – well said; Charles and I are right there with you, and letting those precious children go sure isn’t for wimps! Watching Will and Grace grow into independent, yet home-loving, adults has been nothing but a privilege. I have learned so much from them – so blessed! Take care.

  4. It was great and I learned things from just from what you’d written vaguely. Thank you for sharing and you know I love you!

    • Ah, Sallie! Thanks for reading it…and with your busy schedule! I owe you a note will write soon. Praying for you 🙂 love you

  5. Karen, I enjoyed that so much. I needed to hear it and that it can be done happily. Tyler will be 16 in a few months and he doesn’t talk to us much. He is very busy with teenage stuff, baseball and he absolutely can not wait to have his own set of wheels. What happen to my sweet boy who always wanted me to play games and hold him? I’ve been struggling lately with it but your story helped me to see it differently. Oh how I enjoyed your sweet boys when they were younger and I got to babysit them some. You should be so proud:) time flys and I’m trying to enjoy every second. Thanks for sharing. Miss and love u!!

    • TORRRRIE! 16? It can’t be…it does go so quickly…and the disappearing act is disarming…but…it aint over! Call me if ya need a pep talk! 🙂 love you

  6. Love this! I have four children and they all have different personalities as well. The three oldest are out on their own and my youngest is going to be in high school next year. I really loved being a stay at home mom. The memories of those days are so precious. At times it was overwhelming but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I must say they have all turned out to be wonderful people and I enjoy them just as much as adults! (most of the time) 🙂

    • Ah Beth! Thanks for sharing that…FOUR KIDS!? i had not idea…being a mom is the best! Love it and love this new phase!

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