As we pulled into the highway that would take us back home last Friday, after moving our youngest daughter into her college dorm, my husband asked, “Did you get to do everything you wanted to Mama?” I knew he was asking about setting up the room, having a quick supper, making sure our daughter knew where the stairs, laundry, post office, market and health services were, all those preparations that would give her a good start on this journey away from parental guidance toward independence. But the hot tears that sprang from my eyes betrayed the truth that no, I had not gotten to do everything I wanted to.
I wanted more baby snuggles and snuffles. I wanted more fat, dimpled fists, belly laughs, chunky little feet and round, un-self-conscious bellies. I wanted more faltering first steps, more crayon portraits, more high-chairs graduating to booster seats and cribs to bunk beds. I wanted my house filled with giggling, decorated holiday batches of cookies, birthday cakes in front of glowing faces and sparkling eyes, hands gracefully holding back long, dark tresses from icing and flame, those same graceful hands dancing over the keyboard or placing bows to strings. I wanted more Narnia, more Hogwarts, more orchestra concerts, more sleepovers and prom gowns, more first days of school, first cars, first dates.
But those times are past and I must dry my tears and look to the future. After all, this is the time my husband and I have been looking forward to for twenty-four years, since we first learned we would be parents. We are grateful for the children we have and the people they have chosen to be. Some of our friends and family have lost children along the way, to accidents, to disease, to unfortunate and deadly choices. And some friends and family members have children who will never be able to live independent lives for a variety of reasons. They have their own joys, and different kinds of hope, journeying down the roads that are their lives, so I am daily reminding myself to be grateful.
Grateful for the joy in all the times I have shared, and will share with my grown daughters. Grateful for the hope that I felt twenty-four, twenty-two and nineteen years ago and all the years since as I’ve watched my daughters mature and blossom into the delightful, thoughtful, compassionate, independent young women they are. Grateful for the peace I have knowing they made it safely through childhood, and while adulthood has its own share of frights and faults, I am at peace knowing we’ve done the best we could to prepare them to make the lives they want for themselves. Were we perfect parents? A resounding no! Have they made, and will they make mistakes? Of course! That’s life. But we learn from those mistakes and so I am grateful for them as well. And I am grateful for all the light moments we have shared, moments of faith and laughter, moments of relief from pain and fear after months of illness and several years of loss.
One of my favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show is “Opie, the Birdman,” in which Opie accidentally kills a mother bird with his new slingshot. He places her orphaned baby birds into a cage where he feeds and cares for them as best he can. With Opie we watch the birds grow and when they begin flopping around in the cage, trying to fly, Andy tells Opie there is one more thing the mother bird would have done for her babies, and that is to let them go. Opie reluctantly acknowledges that he knows it’s time, but he worries, “What if I haven’t done something right? What if they’re not ready?” Andy assures him they are ready. Opie opens the cage and carefully lifts out each fledgling, calling them by name, Wynken, Blynken and Nod, and hoists them into the air, watching them soar away from him, never to return to the cage. He sadly looks back at the cage and remarks on how empty it is, but wise Andy, with a brilliant and knowing smile, turns Opie’s attention away from the vacant cage, declaring, “Yes, but aren’t the trees nice and full!”
We’ve released the last of our fledglings. Wynken is engaged to be married soon, working in her father’s business, Blynken embarked on her teaching career this month, and was very proud to send us a pic of her first paycheck, independent at last, and Nod, well, she’s spreading her wings and taking to the skies of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
My nest is empty, for now, but aren’t the trees nice and full?!