The other day in a fit of melancholy, I tweeted out, “Today, I realized parenting is the repeated Sophie’s choice of preparing your child for life without you and letting them cling to you.” That was on day two of my little one being in pre-k. As you can guess a big milestone like that really triggered some soul searching with me.
On his first day, we got to school early, so we just sat in the parking lot listening to a CD of kids songs he likes and talking about how the day was going to play out. He told me he wanted me to come back to his classroom with him and stay. I told him I could walk back with him, but couldn’t stay. He counter offered with me sitting in a seat outside his classroom forever. I pointed out that if I stayed there forever then he would have to go home without me because I’d be stuck sitting in that chair. That got me some giggles and everything seemed fine. A few minutes after, we went in and sat in the cafeteria. My little one was calm, just chattering about his Mario backpack. When it came time to line up and go back to his classroom I went with him, expecting a difficult extrication process ahead. After finding his name tag for his backpack on his own he hung it up and immediately started playing. I had some whiplash, but was relieved there wouldn’t be tears or wailing or gnashing of teeth in the classroom. There were other parents in the room having somewhat similar experiences and we all hovered a bit awkwardly before exiting the room. I stood outside at the chair as promised. My little guy checked for me twice, but then the door to the classroom shut and he wouldn’t be able to see me anymore, so I just kind of walked out dazed. None of the horrible separation anxiety or colossal weight of the moment pressed on me. It was a huge moment in both our lives and it was just over. An emotional whisper instead of a roar.
For those who have walked this road before, you can probably guess what happened on day two. I went to drop him off and while we waited in the parking lot before going in, we chatted about the day. I thought based on the day before there wouldn’t be many, if any, parents walking back with their kids that day and didn’t want my little guy to stick out by having me go back, so I asked if he’d be okay with me staying in the cafeteria and watching him go out. He agreed and when that moment came, he was the first in line. At least until another kid needed help getting in line and the easiest place to put him was the front. My son gave me a hug while in line and signed “I love you.” Great stuff, right?
The teacher called everyone to head to class and my little guy turned to me and reached out his hand. “Daddy, come with me.”
I shook my head, surprised by the sudden turn. “No, buddy, I’m staying here. Remember?”
The first kid was already almost to the door out. My son glanced at him, and back at me.
“Go on, big guy.”
He headed off after the teacher. Then it happened. His backpack slid off his shoulder a bit at the doorway out of the room. My little guy did a goofy sort of jump hop to correct it and leapt out of my sight.
I don’t know where the sucker punch came from. Whether it was the fact that he was able to take charge and handle his misstep on his own or his goofiness and innocence. Either way, I got out to the car and was a wreck. I had this horrible sudden realization that this was it. This was the last time he’d need me to hold his hand and walk him to class. It seems silly to fret over a victory like that, but I’m a writer and a Christian, seeing the figurative side of things is second nature. In it I saw telescoped every little step he would take away from me and into being his own person. That every step away would be one I helped and encouraged him to take. Parenting needs to come with a warning label about that. There’s a beautiful sort of devastation you must endure and do so proudly.
My next thought was a guilty one. I had done the exact same thing to my parents. By growing up, I had inflicted some terrible emotional rends for them. It had to happen for me, has to happen for my son. But man, it hurts.
If you’ve followed this series you know that’s not the end of my introspective spiral. There was one other Person in this situation Whose parental role to be considered, God’s. There’s the very obvious torment God must endure with Christ’s having grown up to suffer a tragic death on the cross, and still be rejected by so many of God’s creations. Scripture also teaches us that we must become little children to see the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 18:3). But we must also grow up in truth and doctrine (1 Peter 2:1-3, Hebrews 5:11-6:3). Growing and filling out, in every way, into the head, Christ (Ephesians 4:15). With so many things in life being mirrored, if darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), by things of this life I’ve struggled to grasp that paradox. Children grow in our lives to become more independent. To fend for themselves and like the much cliché fledgling take wing from the nest. We have adages for how you can’t go home again and I’m sure I’m not the first to blog about the emotional wreck I was left in after this particular milestone. Why is it different?
My thought is that the world we live in necessitates it. Growing up and putting distance between ourselves and our parents is forced on us by death. It’s really logical in a tragic way. We have our parents only so long and can be parents to our children only so long before death parts us
Furthermore we don’t, in a strict sense, need our parents care the same way we do when we’re adults as we do as infants and small children. That isn’t to say we need them at all. I know my parents are limitless sources of help and support to me. It’s true I’m a millennial, but I don’t think my parental dynamic is that unique from past generations.
With God there is no parting. There is no moving beyond what we can and cannot do apart from Him. He sustains the universe, literally maintaining it at a subatomic level—at least that’s how I interpret
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:17, ESV
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” – Hebrews 1:3a, ESV
So, we like small children should cling to Him. We need Him and He deserves that tenderness and unambiguous and unforced love from us. We should reach for him when we’re happy, sad, afraid, proud, confused; in all situations, just as my little one does for me. We should also grow up in our understanding. Though I’m having massive guilt attacks now over how I treated my parents growing up, whether innocent situations or not, I understand them better. I see my life through their eyes now. Their warnings, their pain, their joy. I get it now. And I love them and cherish them so much more for it. That would never have happened if I hadn’t grown up. Irrespective of having my son, I relate to, communicate with, and can empathize with them far better as an adult than as a child. Spiritually maturing gives us the same benefit in our relationship with God through Christ. Our love deepens as we see more and more clearly the depths of God’s love and patience, understanding His character and frankly how impossibly immense He is. It changes how we see everything around us.
Our spiritual growth is not so different from our physical. Like other things of our sin cursed world there are imperfections that have been introduced. The shadows of eternity don’t look exactly like eternity. But they are enough to make me treasure all the more what God is able to show and tell us now. And lest it be overlooked, the point about what God suffered as a parent when Christ died on the cross for us, that love is beyond fathoming. Beyond describing, but to God’s praise and our eternal wonder, not beyond experiencing and growing up in.