A path marked by growing pangs

by Kristin on August 14, 2012

in Love, family & community

The feeling took me by surprise, starting in the pit of my stomach and gradually creeping upward toward my throat, where it lodged itself, making it hard to swallow and tricky for my heart and mind to access one another, and assess the situation. What was going on?

I had spent the morning doing mundane, Saturday work—sorting through bags and bins of things my daughters have been working to clear out of their rooms before the school year begins. From their piles, I was creating three new piles: one that would be hauled to Good Will, one to distribute to friends with younger kids, and one to be neatly packed into bins and stored in the basement or garage. This last pile consisted of our favorite books—all those family “classics” we read aloud, and then they later read alone, more than once. We’ll also keep our nicest toys, like the Playmobil sets that seemed to procreate, increasing and multiplying on their own accord throughout a decade of sisters’ elaborate set-ups and imaginary play.

As I went through the things each daughter had expelled from her room, I couldn’t help but read their respective piles like mini memoirs. My 14-year-old, Q, who is preparing to enter high school, amassed several bags of stuff, clearly making way for big changes. She has always been matter-of-fact—unsentimental in a way that both impresses and saddens me. I know I’m fortunate she’s able to purge without any nagging or cheerleading from me, but I’m also shocked that she can be so thorough and removed—almost militant. Where does this come from? Where did she come from, this full-blown, confident, high-school-ready teenager?

My 12-year-old, S, is just the opposite when it comes to purging and moving on. Every outgrown t-shirt represents a part of her story; every stuffed animal carries a rich personality; every toy she no longer plays with symbolizes both joy and loss. Making way for something new is inevitably fraught with difficulty and emotion, for S. It leaves her feeling spent and broken rather than energized and whole, like her older sister. There are signs that S is finally starting to accept the march of time, rather than tread water in a pool of denial, but the acceptance of this “growing up” business seems to only add to her weighty understanding of what’s lost.

Apparently, when I sort, organize and purge, I simultaneously feel all of those things my two daughters feel: spent, broken and lost, as well as hopeful, energized and renewed. It must be those conflicting emotions that wrestle with one another on the floor of my stomach, like little brothers—laughing, but on the verge of tears, wondering if they’re still having fun or if they’ve crossed the line into the territory of hurt and regret.

The clothes are easier for me to sort through than the toys and books. Jeans and t-shirts for 10-year-olds don’t elicit the same sentimentality as toddler pajamas and kindergarten dresses. Good Will gets the lion’s share, and I set aside a small pile of skirts, shawls and eyeglass frames that might make good Halloween or theater costumes. Gathering the pile up, I carry it out to the garage where the old dress-up bin is stored, planning to make room by weeding out some small princess dresses and fairy wings ready to enchant some other little girls.

When I open the bin, the sight of all that pink and sparkle, the ruffle and fluff, catches me off guard. There was a period of time, maybe four years, when my girls seemed to almost never wear “street clothes” at home. They ate lunch as fairies and unicorns, and took naps as poor orphan girls. They were always trying to lure me into their games as I wrote or cooked, draping a cape over my shoulders or putting a wreath of flowers on my head, explaining in their small voices who I was to be and how I was to act.

I abandon the bin, leaving the garage and walking into the living room, where I sit down and cry. It has been at least four years since my daughters imagined their way through the days in costume, accompanied by their running narration. Why am I just mourning it now? How have I been so dutifully plodding along into the future all these years, without whining or protest?

Suddenly, this transition—from summer to fall, from childhood to adolescence, from the imaginary to the real—is so harsh. This is what wrestles on the floor of my stomach, causing a ruckus that rises into my throat. This transition, the tension of standing in this in-between place, the weariness that comes from trying to hold off the inevitable at an arm’s length.

I know it is time for moving forward, time for something new. But now I can also see that first, it is time to celebrate and mourn what has passed.

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  • http://ordinarilyextraordinary.com/ Amy Nabors

    You’ve echoed what my heart has been feeling all week. Our son starts a new school Thursday. He starts seventh grade in private school leaving the public school system he’s known since Kindergarten. All part of God’s plan and I’m fully trusting as I’ve seen Him make this happen, but there is a part of me that is mourning. Not only for the way we’ve always thought life would look like, but also as my 12 1/2 year old grows closer to young man than my little boy.

  • http://spaciousfaith.com Joanna

    I also have a daughter starting High School this year–and one with an elaborate Playmobile set-up in her room as we speak. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection.

  • http://www.carisadel.com Caris Adel

    Gah, make us all cry, why don’t you? I hate that my babies are growing up, and yet love it at the same time. If they were still all in diapers, we would not be alive right now, haha. My 5 yo is the one who really really really does not want to throw anything out. I finally got her to get rid of some dresses she’d outgrown by giving them to her friends, who could still wear them. Living in a small house helps us purge regularly b/c we just don’t have room for it all. They each have one box they can keep their favorite stuff in, and then when it gets full, they have to throw stuff out. If they have any super special stuff, then I’ll pack it away in the basement for them. We are getting ready to do a massive purge over the next couple of weeks before we start school and I’m really dreading it.

  • Joi

    You know, there really was something very enchanting and beautiful that blossomed in your home for those precious years because of a whole combination of ingredients of creative genes, your mothering, lack of the TV influence, sparks of inspiration, seeds planted by imaginative toys and costumes, and a cooperation between the girls that worked more often than not. I am so glad you actually had this experience and that you shared it with us. Powerful! If it’s possible to believe that God in his love “feels” emotion, this is what I think our mothering God does over and over as he (if you will) sees – here, there and everywhere – reason to keep celebrating evidence of the world’s loveliness, as it was created to be. And he rejoices even though, or maybe because, he has set us free to Be!

  • Joi

    PS, The picture was Perfect!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Amy, I’m glad our bittersweet mama hearts are not alone! It just feels like human nature to fight all of these changes, no matter how inevitable and God-blessed they are. May you continue to be filled with peace in the midst of this transition.

    Joanna, I am surprised that the start of high school is hitting me this hard—I wasn’t nearly this emotional about my girls leaving elementary school! I guess high school really represents the end of the road, in terms of their lives as kids. We’ve suddenly turned this bend—I can really see down the road, now, and it took me by surprise. Thanks for your empathy in this journey!

    Caris, sorry! (But misery loves company, you know?) I also both love and hate that my kids are growing up. Ultimately, though, it’s a beautiful, exciting thing—watching them grow into the individuals they were created to be. Good luck with your upcoming purging!

    Joi, you summed up that perfect combination of ingredients so well! Now that I’ve gotten over the surprise of being bowled over by this, I can start to think more about what I can glean from the emotions. I love the picture you painted of our “mothering God—”reason to keep celebrating evidence of the world’s loveliness, as it was created to be.” Yes! That is something I don’t want to lose sight of, even if seeing it can be bittersweet. (The photo makes me smile—I can just imagine little S giving Q some really detailed instructions about where their story was going!)

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  • http://thehomespunlife.com Sisterlisa

    Oh I hear ya. My kids are growing up so fast..it’s both exciting and bittersweet at the same time. Like Nestle’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. ;)