The day came barging in—expected and inevitable but neither welcomed nor invited. He laid out a new shirt with sunshines all over it. He picked a pair of his brother’s hand-me-down khaki shorts and bright yellow sandals to go with. His space-themed bookbag and lunch box were packed and ready to go.
This was a big moment for him. A moment he’d waited lots of years for. Finally, the baby-est of all my babies wouldn’t be the lone Ross kid left in the minivan after elementary school drop off. This was his year to join the school-aged ranks: He was headed to kindergarten.
The baby of the family sometimes has it rough. They watch their older siblings hit milestones while they’re left in the dust, wondering if their turn will ever come.
His finally had.
To honor this life-changing moment, I parked in the lot, snapped some pictures of him in front of the school and walked him to the door. He held his big sister’s hand, grinning as he glanced back at me. I returned his grin, willing myself to disguise the heart breaking inside my chest.
This upgrade for him was a massive blow to me.
I watched the door close behind him, and on a season of my life I have cherished so deeply. A season of having babies or toddlers or preschoolers home during the day; a season of library trips, lunch dates, afternoon walks and adventures. Picnics in the park, lazy days watching movies and coloring pictures, building blocks and making memories. A season of training and disciplining; one defined by immense growth— for them and for me.
In the messy midst of it all, I did my best to soak it in— “enjoy the moment,” because they “grow too fast,” like the old-timers reminded me.
Now I find myself staring at moms with babies in the grocery store, longingly mumbling to myself they grow so fast and remembering days gone by too soon; a chapter of my life resting forever in the past.
It has taken me months to write this because the sharp feelings of this transition were too much to face. A long-time stuffer of emotions, I buried the intense pain, hoping for it to become something more palatable as I adjust to what my life is becoming.
After a couple months letting it simmer, I’m finally ready to process this major shift—looking back with an immense amount of gratitude and a raw twinge of grief, taking what I’ve learned here into life’s next chapter.
Growth is painful. Recognizing dysfunction and learning new, effective ways of living is similar to a teenager going through puberty. It’s awkward and exhilarating; overwhelming and empowering, all at the same time.
Like spring flowers breaking ground, the changing of life’s seasons causes what was planted to push up through the dirt and reveal what it’s made of. Here in this place of big changes, I’ve gathered both some flowers and some weeds.
A great irony of life is this: You don’t know you’re in the middle of the best times of your life when you’re so busy living it. The hardships of the day-to-day, the upheaval of selfishness, discomfort and the lack of skill to recognize and meet legitimate personal needs, hijacks our gratitude and joy and disconnects us from the beauty of the present.
That irony is a weed I’m seeing with clarity; determined to spray some Round-Up on it as I sow the seeds of my next chapter. I’ll be damned if it chokes out the garden of gratitude and joy planted as I learn to become more fully present.
And that is the most meaningful thing I’m learning right now: the dichotomy of letting go gracefully while embracing the moment fully. I hang on with white knuckles to my expectations, my anxieties, my offenses, my defenses and control; digging my heels in, willing things to return to what they once were or what I think they should be, all the while the warmth of the present moment goes cold without me appreciating it’s glow.
Letting go seems excruciating because the unknown is scary and time is relentless. However, change is inevitable so the energy I put into hanging on produces nothing but fatigue and frustration. There’s much truth to the quote “You are afraid to surrender because you don’t want to lose control. But you never had control; all you had was anxiety.”
Control is a mirage I’ve wasted much time running towards, only to watch it evaporate the closer it became. Is my kids behavior “under control?” Is my house “under control?” Is my eating, health efforts, body, etc. “under control?” Is my marriage “under control?”
Ironically, grasping for control creates much of the anxiety that causes disconnection and drains the joy from present moments. Oftentimes, you can have connection or control, but you can’t have both. We are hard-wired for connection. It’s a physiological need. However, as we go through life, our wounds teach us to be in control to be safe, which might work for a season, or may help us survive difficult times. But thriving? That will require something different of us.
It will require trust and surrender, rewarding us with the gifts of a life fully-embraced and a heart content. Some of my deepest regrets are rooted in the times I let fear steal my gaze and drain my energy. Fear of whether I’m good enough, attractive enough, what others might think of me, my kids, or what we’re doing, what people are saying about me, whether someone will hurt or betray me, what the future holds for me and my family, whether this tantrum is indicative of a deeper issue, whether that sickness is a passing virus or something more. The list could go on and on (and on and on…) and it’s exhausting. Boiled down, it’s the attempt to manage outcomes and others’ perceptions and actions, instead of surrendering to being fully known and loved, letting love drive the only thing I can control: Myself.
Fear internalized produces anger and anxiety. Anger and anxiety produces negative behavior resulting in shame and regret. Shame and regret are breeding grounds for fear, and so the cycle goes. I can’t tell you how many times something going on under the surface—some worry, some unmet and unspoken expectation, some feeling of my worth or lovability being in question—has caused me to rage on my kids for something unrelated. It’s embarrassing, but it’s true and perhaps you can relate. If I want this to change, I have to let go of the fear that drives this cycle onward.
Moving from one season of life into the next is a lot less painful when the latter isn’t shaded with regret. As I let go of a time of life that has done more to make me as a person than any season before it, I’m also letting go of my dysfunctional ways of being. The fears, expectations and control that play a huge part in creating the behavior I inevitably regret when time whizzes past relentlessly.
Letting go is the only way to fully embrace what’s in front of us, etching those everyday moments on our hearts and filling the pages of our life with a beautiful story.
What have you learned as you’ve navigated life’s big transitions? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.