“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” — John 16:21
At times, my husband seems impatient with me regarding my inability to fully embrace our “empty-nest” status. It’s not to say that my life isn’t full these days. On the contrary, I am busier than ever with rewarding work, fun friendships, and several recreational activities. What my husband considers to be one of my slight psychological defects, I recognize as a normal, once-in-a-while yearning of moments long gone.
Recently, on one of our care-free excursions, a young woman from across the aisle clawed at my arm while pleading for me to get the flight attendant’s attention. I turned her way just in time to see her two-year old in the midst of projectile vomiting all over her mother’s lap and onto her newborn sister’s tiny head. The baby turned purple as she screamed in shock.
Once the flight attendant took control of the situation, Ted looked at me and said, “Now can you accept ’empty nest?'”
Last weekend on a flight to Minnesota to attend a wedding, two toddlers lost patience with our holding pattern. I sometimes wonder if pilots’ watches operate differently than those owned by us lowly passengers. What he had said would be a twenty-minute circling turned into over an hour of laps around the outer regions of St. Paul. As we waited for air traffic to clear for us to land, a young mom and dad fretted patiently as they unsuccessfully tried to quiet their two young screaming children.
“How about now?” was all Ted could say.
With time to fill before the wedding, we decided to take a 90-minute history cruise on the Mississippi River. We arrived early, finding ourselves first in line to pick some optimum seats. As it was a Friday afternoon, most of the passengers were elderly couples (such as ourselves?). We cozied up next to each other gazing out at the beautiful river banks and looking forward to the tour.
Just five minutes before departure, I glanced up to see a hoard (maybe 50?) of elementary school children running up the ramp. Apparently it was field-trip day in St Paul.
What was supposed to be a leisurely, yet educational, cruise on one of America’s most famous landmarks, in actuality was somewhat of a nightmare. To say the children were unruly would be the understatement of the year. Kids were running one way while popcorn was flying the other. They were yelling and screaming while chasing after each other and often going in and around places where they were not allowed. I vacillated between feelings of fear that one of them was about to fall overboard and feelings of desire to toss a few over myself! A few of the chaperones tried to bring order, but most of the accompanying adults did not seem to be phased by the chaos caused by their students.
When we were finally off the ship and sitting in the grace-filled serenity of our rental car, Ted looked at me and asked, “How about NOW?”
It’s natural to forget the bad stuff and only remember good. Though he doesn’t often admit it, Ted has a habit, too, of recalling only the pleasant experiences of past years. Jesus said we will remember the joy, not the grief (John 16:22). I choose to mostly remember the fun times of raising children.
Is it so difficult to understand how I could love my life today while still longing to have a
few of those special moments back? Should I seek psychiatric help because my eyes well up when I remember dress-up days, bed time stories, jumping in leaf piles, birthday parties and Halloween costumes? Perhaps I should be institutionalized for sometimes missing the feelings associated with being needed by little girls with scraped knees, bruised egos, and broken hearts?
When I was in the midst of difficult child-rearing days, many older mothers would tell me, “it will go by before you know it.” It did not really help all that much when I was in the midst of stressful times, but I do understand now what they were trying to explain. I find myself saying similar things now to young mothers, but they rarely hear me with children screaming in their ears.
As I said, my life is full today and I’m not complaining. It doesn’t hurt to be in the presence of unruly children every so often to help me appreciate my quiet home a little more easily. However, if I could go back in time, I would, and I would try to find a way to make the good moments all go by a little more slowly.
“Don’t cry because it’s over.
Smile because it happened!” — Dr. Seuss