There have been few moments more shocking in my life than the exact moment that my youngest child stepped through the doors of his elementary school for his first full day of class. It felt like someone had just yanked the rug out from underneath my feet, but shouldn’t I have seen it coming? Wasn’t this the moment I’d been preparing for years? For me, it wasn’t a punch in the gut because I was going to miss him, per se, or that I couldn’t believe how fast the years had gone by… it was a punch in the gut because in that exact moment, in that one instant, a door closed on who I had been for the past ten years and a new one was flung wide open before me, and it was absolutely terrifying. I had been so busy checking items off of school supply lists, making sure pants would fit and buying backpacks with just the right character plastered on the front that I had forgotten to prepare my heart for that one jarring moment.
Having small kids was hard for me. It is hard for everyone, I know, but it really didn’t jive with my black & white, right-or-wrong outlook on life. I don’t live in the ‘gray zone’ very often. But do you know where kids hang out 24/7? IN THE GRAY ZONE. They don’t automatically know what is right and what is wrong. You actually have to patiently and lovingly TEACH them these things! Who knew?! Having to walk three humans through the basics of life really grew me. (“We don’t eat things we find on the ground! We don’t tell strangers in the supermarket that they look like they are made out of jello!! We DON’T try to see if our little brother fits in the dryer!!!”) It challenged me. It forced me to live in the gray. Suddenly things weren’t all black & white. Not all things were clear-cut, sensible and logical. Nothing fit in a tidy box anymore. I couldn’t reason with a three-year-old. I couldn’t persuade an eight-month-old to go to sleep with a speech about the long-lasting health and emotional benefits. I actually had to walk with them through it, and consistently model the right behavior for them over hundreds and thousands of days! For someone who is lacking in the patience and empathy department, this was HARD.
In that moment when my youngest boy walked away from me and through the school doors, I realized it was finished. Not all the hardships of parenting of course, but the bone-wearying, day-to-day, physically draining, completely irrational, boot-camp-style human training years were… finished. Suddenly I had EIGHT SOLID HOURS of FREE TIME to do other things besides making snacks and teaching a boy how to function as a member of society. Why had I not taken the time to prepare me? For my new reality?
The truth has formed slowly in my mind over the months since that day. It’s STILL not black & white. Life did not snap back into clear-cut lines the moment my hours were freed up. Now it’s ME who needs time to be reshaped and remolded and trained. Now it’s ME who needs loving patience and time to relearn who I am and where I fit. And just like it was ridiculous for me to expect my tiny babies to know how to function and behave and know exactly what to do from their first days on earth, it is ridiculous for me to expect that of myself as I stand before this brand new wide open door that’s before me. For ten years I have been caring for children as my primary role. And maybe that is the full-time role I will continue in. But maybe it is not? Maybe there is a job for me to fill or a passion to pursue? Maybe a circumstance that I can’t see right now will arise and I will be prepared to step right into it? All I know is that these years of learning to ‘live in the gray’ with small children have taught me how to have grace. Not just for them, but now in turn, for me. I don’t have to have it all figured out right now and that is absolutely okay. I can take baby steps just like my three toddling boys did. I can take it day-by-day until one day I will look back and marvel at how far I have come, just like I marveled at how far my boy had come as he marched bravely right through those open school doors.