Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Firsts and Lasts

I really don't like talking with people who don't enjoy their children. I find the constant focus on how and when to get rid of the "little dears" aggravating, to say the least. I'm an optimist at heart--I make every effort to turn those conversations around, giving the mother the chance to make the inevitable retraction that usually sounds like this: "Oh, I love my kids, but I just could never spend so much time with them ...."

Please don't think I'm talking about the occasional conversation that happens on a bad day. You know--when you happen to catch someone on the day their two year-old flushed a Matchbox car down the toilet as they were trying to convince a seven year-old that they really did have to learn to read at some point. Those days happen--to all of us! But the difference is that for some people, those days without joy in our position as caretakers of children are few and far between, while for others, it is a constant state.

The truth is, I can't imagine not spending so much time with my children. I'm keenly aware at all times that God has measured this time that I have with them. In his infinite wisdom, He has divided my life into seasons. Right now, I am thankful to be in the season of having beautiful children growing around me, soaking in knowledge and relishing their relatively carefree days. I am blessed to be watching my children's springtime and, in effect, it has been springtime for me as well.

I've been painfully aware lately that for all I know, the season of physical fruitfulness has, for me, ended. While I have many, many more years of mothering ahead of me, I have no guarantee that my desire for more children will ever be answered in the form of a little one in my arms. As my youngest turns four this month, I'm aware that I'm slipping into summer ... whether I am prepared to leave behind spring's blossoms, or not.

I have personally witnessed each of my children accomplish most of the "firsts" of early childhood. First words, first steps, first haircut, first drawing, losing that first tooth, writing their name for the first time. These moments will always, for me, be the epitome of this springtime: the hours I have been able to spend with each child, relishing their small strides in becoming the little person God has created them to be. I will never forget the blessing of the joys and the heartbreaks of these times. The bitterness at discovering my daughter's vision problems. The delight in my first son's bright red hair at birth. The concerns over my youngest's speech. The whoops of sheer joy as my daughter learned to ride her bike. The tears as I shaved my oldest son's head after a bout with play-doh scissors. The smiles I have had to hide from my "baby" as he crinkles his brow in seriousness. These are the gifts of spring.

And now ... now I'm leaving it. I have no idea what summer holds, only that it, too was designed by God, so it, too must be good.

Today, as I sat down with my youngest when he insisted on "my school time, Mom!" I was slightly sad, as I always am, to watch him piece and patch letters into sounds, sounds into words. Believe it or not, this has felt for me more the "the last first time" for months. His reading has felt inevitable, something I have been resigned to more than enthralled by. Why? Because this may very well be the last time I see that light come one in a child's eyes as the world opens up around them. And, over the years, I have come to love this small act of teaching more than anything else in parenting. To watch it unfold for possibly the last time ... I can't describe how my heart has cried.

Maybe it was the sunshine, which woke me this morning and has lit up my house all day. Maybe it was the fact that ds5 had just tackled his first "big kid" book ("The Boxcar Children") on his own. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the scripture I read this morning, which reminded me that all good and perfect things come from above. ;-) Whatever the case was, as I watched my little boy carefully sound out "hit" and "hot" and show me the picture that matched each word, my heart leaped. I was suddenly--finally--back in that moment, thinking not about the long years that stretched ahead of me and the empty arms I'd have, but of the beautiful gift of a moment I had right there on the couch with my son.

God's plan may very well be for these to be my final days in actively mothering three little ones. But I know He has plans for me. More "firsts" are surely around the corner, even as I celebrate the "lasts." And as I spend my days in ALL of these seasons, I will continue to choose joy.

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