Floor plans and scholarship applications litter my dining room table these days, and the talk around dinner is all about the future. Life as I know it is about to undergo a drastic change here on this country hill. Having homeschooled a brood of four sons for the past twenty-one years, I’ve seen our story trending in this direction and felt the current of life rushing toward the door. I have not missed the significance of the unpredictable number of place settings at dinner, the unexpected date nights when my good husband and I realize we’re going to be home alone—Again!
I have become an object of concern to some, since the “baby” has turned 18 and is poised to graduate in the spring. They ask, tentatively, kindly, as if, perhaps, it might be a tender subject for me, “What on earth are you going to do with yourself?”
I’m used to questions. Although I did not realize it at the time, I have since noticed how unusual it is to schlep a shopping cart and four sons through a grocery store. “Are they all yours?” was the most common query I received in the season of the loaded blue mini-van, but my favorite was the inappropriate and completely boundary-less, “Do they all have the same father?” (What…??)
Today, standing in this liminal space holding a stack of blue and tan Pfaltzgraff and an indeterminate number of forks, the questions from all the seasons of my mothering life meet and dance in a circle around this emptying nest.
In a sense, nothing has changed.
The duties are all still there: the food prep, the studying, the laundry, the teaching, the vacuuming, the long listening to friends. The proportions are all that differ. Even in the intense season of four daily math lessons and multiple sports-and-music drop-offs and pick-ups, I would have been found rummaging around in the Sermon on the Mount while parked outside the middle school or scrawling lines into a well-floured notebook while rolling pie dough.
The love is all still there: Little hands still hold loaded paintbrushes and cut gingerbread boys from sticky dough at my kitchen counter, but they belong to my grandchildren now. The concerned phone calls, the proffered wisdom, the checking-in now runs in both directions, as our sons have surpassed us in many practical ways, but continue to do us the honor of asking our advice now and then. Band-Aids are no longer dispensed on the daily, but encouragement and help to the young women in my life feels a little bit like healing.
My mothering life goes on, and this is surely what will lie at the center of whatever response I live my way into in answer to this season’s new line of questioning. When the house was perpetually noisy, when pizza was on the menu every Friday, and we argued over which Disney movie to pop into the VCR, I thought I would never forget any of it—I would remember it always just the way it was. The stories we tell one another about our family in the past have been molded by the shape of our family today. Funny stories become a better memory every year. Wrongs of the past, while still wrong and regrettable, have been so completely forgiven that the sting of the story has been swallowed up in love.
Maybe what author Madeleine L’Engle said of herself, looking back upon a full life, is also true of my family: “I am still every age that I have been.” The stages of a mothering life are built from a series of moments: now, now, and now quickly become then, and my family-as-it-is collides in memory with my family-as-it-was. An action verb, mothering always has and will continue to comprise elements of giving and telling, listening, and nurturing. Mothers in every season are tasked with the creation of safe emotional space, long after the need for clean socks, and a full lunch box has expired.
What in the world will I do with myself now that my boys have become young men and my mothering in the flesh will soon be, primarily, a mothering of the spirit? The answer, I believe, will be another question, because it has been the question all along:
“What story do I want to be able to tell going forward?”
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Michele Morin is a teacher, reader, writer, and gardener who does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, and three adorable grandchildren. Michele is active in educational ministries with her local church and delights in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. You can find Michele on her blog, Facebook, and Instagram.