The Waning of Childhood

I have a confession. I didn’t struggle too much with any parenting phase in particular— not the teething, nor the toddler phase, and there were no terrible twos. We had our hard days or even weeks, and in some phases, we had challenging times of day, like bath time. (For a while there my daughter screamed at full volume every time we asked her to get in the tub.) But mostly I just really enjoyed being a mom. Pridefully, I thought I would continue to simply delight in all of the phases of parenting. Then—here’s where it gets really (!) prideful— I noticed how some of my mom friends seemed absolutely devastated when their children graduated from high school and left the nest. I thought that won’t be me. I will know it’s coming, and I will prepare myself. I’ll be ready. Oh. My. Cue the maniacal laughter at my ridiculousness. (First, how could one ever prepare oneself for this!? Given all the time in the world, I now know I won’t be able to do it.) A thousand apologies to my mom friends with older children. I think deep down; my heart knew what was coming and desperately wanted to shield itself. 

Now, since my daughter turned twelve-and-half, and then thirteen, then fourteen, I have experienced on and off what I now know is utter grief. I never saw this coming. I’m grieving hard and early; we still have several years left before she leaves the nest. Yes, it’s amazing to see her grow up into a beautiful, adventurous and hilarious young woman. Yes, I still enjoy almost absolutely every minute with her. No, I don’t want to keep her small or at home forever in some twisted Rapunzel-type scenario. But I am deeply grieving what one talented writer friend aptly described as the “waning of childhood.” It’s real, and it hurts. I don’t know if it’s worse because she’s my only, or if I had multiple children, then perhaps (and most likely) everything would be multiplied— either way, I really don’t know how to handle this. Finding myself in the throes of deep sorrow has taken me by surprise. I don’t have a manual to follow, and none of my friends had ever told me they’d experienced this torrent of emotion when their children were at this stage of the journey. In many ways, I feel like I am starting completely over. I feel like a new mom, tenuously unsure of the days ahead, but very much feeling the weight of their importance. 

Recently, toward the end of her 8th-grade year, she and I sat waiting for her bus to come to take her to school. As we waited, a different school bus pulled up nearby. Two exuberant little blond boys bounded out of the car parked next to us. They bounced up the steps to board the bus, wrestling and boisterously jostling one another as they went. Their father unabashedly stepped out of the car, took a few strides to close the distance between himself and the bus, and waved exuberantly and tenderly at them through the glass of the bus window. He was so focused on them; he never noticed that the sweetness of his gesture stopped my daughter and me in our tracks. She exclaimed, “Aw! Mom! He kept waving until the bus was gone!”

I joked about how I wouldn’t embarrass her by waving at her bus. She laughed, told me she loved me, hesitated a moment, and then her bus pulled up, and she was gone. I wanted to run to the man standing alone in the parking lot and tell him he was doing the right thing, making the right choice. He wasn’t worried about getting to work on time or checking his phone— he was fully immersed in the moment, captivated by his sons. He danced in the fleeting moment of a regular, ordinary morning. 

As difficult as it is, I have realized I find comfort in the knowledge it is right to mourn. Typically we grieve to honor a person and the beautiful life they lived when they pass on. Grief marks the presence of something of great value by mourning its loss. Childhood is beautiful. It’s an incredible gift and will never come again. It is right to observe its passing and to shed tears. Something precious is passing right before my eyes, never to return. Though it pains me, I will hold space to marvel at this miracle— the first years of my child’s life. Though my daughter doesn’t know I am doing it, I will observe the closing of her childhood in my heart. I will take note and say through tears, There it goes. It was beautiful. It was well-lived and greatly cherished.

This fall, my daughter started high school.  Between 8:05 am and 3:10 pm each day, my heart walks through the halls of high school with Converse sneakers on. So what do I do? I resolve to take life one day at a time and to allow gratefulness— my thankfulness over being her mom and over the stunning creature she is becoming— to assuage the hurt. I choose to allow the sweet to overtake the bitter. I am asking God to grant me the strength to do the hardest thing— to gradually let her go, little by little. 

On that morning at the bus stop, I wanted to run after my teenage daughter’s bus waving. I wanted to stop the driver, get her off the bus, take her home, and hold her close. I wanted to go back and shake my younger self hard, and tell her, “You don’t have as much time as you think you do!” I wanted to go back and give more hugs, listen more intently, linger longer. Catch more fireflies and pick out more cloud shapes in the sky. Not hurry. Not keep time. But I can’t. I can only make the most of the ever-fleeting moments now. (God, please grant me the grace to do that. Please grant me the strength that I need each day to be a mom of a beautiful, lovely, sometimes stormy, exquisite teenage girl.)

As I prepare for summer to wane into fall at my home here in the North Carolina mountains, I realize God uses the seasons to teach me about motherhood.  Our summer has been extraordinarily wild and wonderful, but now I know I must let go of it in order to receive the next good thing—autumn.  I must loosen my grasp, let go, and trust that my hands will once again be filled with something that will bring joy.

Helen Gentry is a life coach, franchise coach and realtor in the dreamy Western North Carolina mountains. She lives with her husband, daughter, and hound dog, and loves to write and travel. A 7 on the Enneagram, she is always looking for her next adventure (and her next iced coffee).




One response to “The Waning of Childhood”

  1. Katie Hill Avatar
    Katie Hill

    Wow. You have put words to the feelings that no one warns us about. They tell us about the neck-deep feeling of raising little ones, they tell us about the sass and mood swings of teens and they tell us about the sadness of the empty nest. But no one talks about the in-between. The turning. Turning into something new all the time. And the fleeting feeling that comes with each turn. Thank you for sharing this. It’s really beautiful.

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