After visiting my old Kentucky home and talking with friends and family, I’m reminded of just how unique God makes all of us. He instills dreams within every person and then equips us with the skills and talents to achieve them. Yes, He grants us free will and is thankfully a God of second chances. I wouldn’t be writing this blog if He wasn’t. And I feel most certain He’s overjoyed when we finally arrive and bloom in our sweet spot.
Living in the same small town for over 40 years can affect your perspective. While there was great comfort in knowing where every winding road led, there was always a yearning to experience life outside of Appalachia. Did it take years for me to gather the nerve to do so? Most definitely. Is there anything wrong with those that lack that curiosity? Not at all. We’re all wired differently and no one owes the other an excuse for their actions, especially if we make no attempt to understand the reasoning behind it.
I was blessed with parents who loved long road trips to the beach. There’s fond memories of being in the back seats with cousins, playing I-Spy or fixing our hair into crazy styles to pass the time. It seems like yesterday that my dad was stopping at Stuckey’s (do they still exist?) or Cracker Barrel and buying bags of candy to hold us over until the next stop. But above all else, I remember hearing my mom’s excitement each summer as we anticipated the first site of the ocean. Even though we usually went to the same place every year, it was the sheer anticipation that seemed to affect me the most.
As I got older and luckily rarely got carsick, I kept my nose in a book from the time we pulled out of the driveway until we reached our destination. Whether it was a romantic escapade in the Scottish Highlands or a biography of Teddy Roosevelt’s western adventures, I imagined what it would be like living there. It was no surprise years later that I’d find art history and social studies intriguing. For those subjects allowed me to time travel and glimpse into other worlds.
When I became a high school history teacher and informed my mother I was raising money to take my students to Europe, she wasn’t a naysayer as some parents might be, or didn’t comment that “I was getting too big for my britches.” Instead she replied, “Go for it! See the world!” That type of affirmation was huge for a young woman who was more than a little nervous but didn’t dare admit it. And after a year of selling everything from pizza to popcorn kits, it was worth every penny counted as my students gazed in awe at the Eiffel tower. When they hustled to the front to see the Venus de Milo, I was brought to tears on remembering how just a few months prior they’d simply seen it in a textbook.
I’ve tried to do the same with my daughters. Travel is one of the best ways to educate children, as well as provide them with a keen sense of humility. But I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not always thrilled when I find their dreams are vastly different than what I’d had for them. But that’s a bit egotistical isn’t it? Who’s to say my preferences are better than what’s they’ve chosen for themselves?
I think back about my oldest, who at age 10, was always so excited about going to the dentist that she’d beat me to the car. I always wondered what was wrong with a kid who loved getting sharp instruments poked into her mouth, or why anyone would love going to the orthodontist to get bands painfully tightened. I can even recall an afternoon when she and a childhood friend happily dissected insects instead of catching them for a few hours like most normal kids. As an overly analytical parent, I often asked myself: what childhood trauma has led to such bizarre interests? What did I do to encourage a daughter to like this kind of stuff? The self-doubt was palpable.
I can now see God’s handiwork as she completes her last year of dental school and sends me snap chats of gnarly teeth and eagerly tells me about performing root canals. (btw, my stomach got queasy just writing this sentence.) But it’s her path and I must happily accept it, even if it takes her to places I’m unfamiliar. After all, I trust my kid’s instincts and she’s an adult of great faith. God is directing her journey that is uniquely different than mine. I have no choice but to honor and applaud her for it.
With my youngest, I often look in the mirror and ask, Angie, what in the WORLD were you thinking, encouraging your child to attend a college 1600 miles away!? You have a screw loose, my friend! But then how can a mother tell a daughter NOT to apply (even though you know the acceptance rate is 10 % for out-of-state students) after seeing her eyes light up when talking about Thomas Jefferson’s attendance there? I’ll confess, I secretly rehearsed the mother-daughter speech about how rejection letters make you a stronger person.
But after going on a campus tour and and seeing her excitement about every aspect of this historical campus, I knew I had to put my selfish desires aside and support her courageous attempt. Note photo at top where we jokingly threatened that we were getting new jobs and following her to college if she got in.
She got in, we celebrated with fanfare, and she thrives in her sweet spot. My job? I do everything possible to support her dream, even if it means long plane rides, hours in the car, financial sacrifices and tears shed by an empty nest mom.
But that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Even if it’s totally gut-wrenching that you haven’t heard from them in several days. Or even when they inform you of where they’re going and you have no choice but to trust and pray they’re safely tucked into their apartment at a decent hour. (Of course, I know the decent hour thing is a mother’s dream)
But I’ll try to keep my worries well hidden, for it’s my burden, not theirs. Laying on a guilt trip wouldn’t be fair. And yes, I learned that the hard way. And even though these realities are tough, I shudder to think what my kid’s lives might be like if I’d forced or nudged them to do things my way. Ugh. I don’t even want to go there.
After all, what kind of parents would we be if we created boring clones of ourselves? While it’s difficult to watch our children leave the nest and satisfy their own wants, we must pray and have faith that God will ultimately lead them towards a means characterized by love, honesty and hard work. Will they get bumps and bruises and have their hearts broken? Probably. But isn’t that the way we all learned? As a empty nester that still misses her little birds, I’m slowly starting to get it: I can either be critical of their choices and watch them emotionally pull away, or I can celebrate and encourage their individuality, being thankful that God created self-sufficient children.I’ll be the first to say I’m a work in progress.
What about you? Let’s all pray for wisdom so that our children will bloom abundantly, regardless of where they choose to plant their roots. And if they their roots decay or need adjustment? Well, I know of a good dentist to call on.
Have a blessed day!