My feelings these days are tender ones.
I am in a place I have been before, one that is unfamiliar, yet strangely recognizable. A place full of busyness and long to-do lists. A place of shopping for suits, white shirts, luggage, and vitamins. A place that will end with a tearful goodbye and a large, empty hole in my heart.
I am about to send my second-born son out into the world. And not in the traditional sense like other boys his age. He's not moving a few hours away to reside in a dorm or frat house. He won't be attending freshmen orientation or meeting cute girls in class. He won't be accessible to me via cell phone, text, or FaceTime.
Once a week, I will get an email from him, which will be the only window I have into his world. Twice a year, I will get to Skype with him for an hour. That's it.
I am sending him on a mission trip to Finland.
He will spend the first nine weeks in Utah, in class for about 15 hours a day as he tries desperately to learn Finnish. He will then get on a plane, travel halfway across the world and meet other missionaries his age to try to learn the ropes. He will be in a country he's never navigated before. Speaking a language he doesn't really know. He will be lonely, scared, and without the support system he is used to relying on.
Back at home, I will get teary every day for a few months when I think or talk about him to others. I will wait anxiously for that email every week, and spend considerable time carefully drafting one of my own for him to read. I will not be able to go into his bedroom for at least a few weeks. My house will be quieter, my dishes fewer. My pantry a lot fuller. I will pine for his everyday presence, for his laughter, for his company. I won't really be okay until he is.
It seems quite awful when you think about it, and were I not almost on the other end of sending out his brother, I'm not sure I'd make it. But these truths are what will allow me to let him go, and what will sustain me for the months to come:
I know he will grow. He will learn to adult in the hardest, biggest way possible. He is getting thrown into the deep end of the life pool with ankle weights on, and will swim hard, the current pulling him under at times, until he finds the side. He will care for himself, manage his finances, navigate a foreign culture, and learn to love others in a way I could not provide within the walls of my safe and comfortable home. He will do it all by himself. He won't have our daily guidance, and we won't be able to help him through it much at all. He will make mistakes, learn, and grow all on his own.
I know he will thrive. It will take some time, but it will happen. The language will be so overwhelming at times that he will want to quit. The companion may or may not be someone he can remotely tolerate, and he will spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with this person. He will learn to love him in whatever way it takes. The climate will be cold, dark, and harsh (except for the brief, beautiful summer months when daylight never ends) and he will learn to be responsible for remembering gloves, hats, scarves, and thermals. He will cook for himself, buy his own groceries, and shop for any necessities. He will take himself to the doctor and treat colds on his own. He will learn to listen to God, and to be directed on a daily basis. He will practice listening to the spirit and will become adept at it. He will study the scriptures in a way he never has before.
I know he will return. The clock will keep ticking forward, no matter how slow it seems to move, and two years will pass. He will not be the same boy he was when he left. I cry now for the loss of that sweet boy, for I am never to see him again. This departure signals another fundamental change to the family I have made my life's work, and I mourn losing this dynamic. I mourn the change it brings to my mothering. He will come home to me as the beginnings of the man he's going to become. He will be recognizable, yes, but my life will never return to the way it is right now. I hate that. I love my life right now. But I know he will be stronger, hold his head up taller, be more humble, and have learned to love and serve god.
I know these truths, I have seen them with his brother. I take comfort in the good that is to come, but my mama heart feels panic at saying goodbye to this sweet boy. I'm not ready. It's come much too soon.
This mama is powerless to stop time. Growth, pain, joy, heartache, loneliness, pride, independence and happiness are ready to crash down on us all like a tidal wave.
Ready or not, it's time.