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Baby not on board
Mary C. Lindberg
Mary C. Lindberg

If you’ve just celebrated that first full night of sleep for you and your infant … or that your child learned to use a spoon, tie his shoes, or make a friend at day care, preschool or kindergarten, you already know that each of these milestones is both an achievement and a step in the separation process.

Last week we moved our oldest daughter into a college dorm. As we took the highway home, I caught sight of a van with a “Baby on Board” sign in the back window. Is there a yellow sign for parents of college students? I wondered. Maybe a sign with a little graduation hat that reads “Baby Not on Board”? Actually there were babies in our car: feeling both successful and bereft, we (the parents) were crying because our kid had left us.

One woman described the transition to being a college mom as “a journey.” That’s a relief because I’m not “there” yet. I’m busy resisting this new stage. Why do young people need to leave home?! Couldn’t they just grow up with their parents, as in some other era? And here we are busy painting every room in our house, trying to pour our sadness into a project. If we have to rearrange all these things inside ourselves, we might as well do the same on the outside, right?

There have been some surprising lessons on the first steps of this journey.

As I cook meals, I’ve been thinking about our daughter eating in a cafeteria. At her age I was also oblivious to all the people doing hard work to care for my basic human needs. Yes, she has entered a new stage of doing her laundry and getting up without a parent haranguing her. But she still has a team behind her making sure she’s fed, housed and educated. Sometimes it’s only when we look back that we see how much we were embraced by love. True, when our children are small we spend hours and hours caring for our little ones. But at the same time God was caring for us. During this period of change, that invisible truth has become more visible.

Prayer is taking on a whole new urgency these days. I sometimes felt homesick in college, and later in places across the world. But I had no idea how much my family was also missing me. Now I know. And now I pray. Now I insist (demand) that God be present for our daughter, in the place where we can’t be. As I’ve said before to both of our daughters, “We’re so lucky we practice a faith that has the Spirit, because we believe something binds us even when we’re apart.”

Yesterday, a mom and her kids stood behind me in the line at the bakery. When the kids slipped ahead of me to peer in the pastry case, the mom apologized. I told her not to worry: “I’ve been bringing my kids here since they were little, and now one is at college.” I gave her understanding. She gave me someone to hear that news.

Now I’m telling you: I tried to enjoy every minute of our daughters’ childhoods — I really did! And it still went too fast. I’m praying that you will stack up your parental blessings and the many treasured moments with your children. They give you something to lean on when your baby is no longer on board. 

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