What I'm experiencing isn't new. But it is for me. So I must grapple with these new feelings, as my youngest child "flies from the nest," leaving for college soon.
I made a new friend recently. Sally and I met at a Colombian National Day Celebration. We discovered quickly we had more than just our international friends in common.
We talked about ideas, hopes, dreams, plans…and challenges, too. And one of these is coming to terms with this new season I'm about to enter and which she'll join in a year.
I shared with Sally how I had never been one to dream about getting married, having a home and family…as some women do. It just happened, much to my surprise, actually.
I wasn't someone who longed for kids, either. In fact, I was full of fear: Could I become a good mother? How could I carry the weight of responsibility that comes with parenting? Would I mess my children up?
The full-time, stay-at-home mom plan was never my cup of tea. I have great respect for women who do that, but it was just not me.
But, in some ways, it actually was.
For I was with my kids almost every day as they grew up. I snuggled and read books, sat on the floor playing games, took them to parks, volunteered in their classrooms, went on field trips, picked them up after school, helped with homework, fed them, played again and often fell into my own bed thoroughly exhausted each night.
At the same time, my paid work for the past 23 years (paralleling the age of my oldest) has been with a nonprofit organization, International Students, Inc. I was part time on the books, but my mindset was not part time at all.
My "office" was wherever and whenever I could grab a moment on my laptop, snatch a conversation on the phone, send off a text, or meet up with a student.
My job involved communicating with incoming and current students from all over the world. I arranged temporary housing upon their arrival. I would greet them at the airport or bus stop (or have other volunteers do so), help orient them to the community, meet one-on-one or in small groups with them, plan and carry out small and large-scale events, take them on day or weekend trips, invite them over for a meal.
Our home became a hive of much cross-cultural activity. Our kids met and interacted with hundreds of people from places as diverse as Sudan and the Congo to Japan, China, Korea, Pakistan, Kuwait, Oman, Germany, France, Norway, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.
I also mobilized hundreds of volunteers over the years to assist in the work, befriending internationals one-on-one and helping out with events.
Best of Both Worlds, Right?
Time with the kids - being part of their every day - yet enjoying a fulfilling and varied career at the same time. This was, indeed, the best of both worlds, right?
It would seem so. But several things took place around the year 2000 that made the experience much more challenging.
The first was I became a mother of three children 5 and under that year. Not impossible (many do it), but indeed, stretching (in every sense of the word!).
The second was the growing popularity of the internet. This meant all of a sudden students from far-flung places has access to me through this new thing called email. And the requests would come in a steady flow, especially at certain peak times of the year.
And the third was the retirement in spring 2001 of the mentor couple we had been working alongside for many years. This meant the work we were doing was now squarely in my court.
Make no mistake. My husband was intensively involved in both the international student outreach as well as the parenting of our children. All in. But he also held a full time job as a high school English teacher, too. So the lion's share of the work in a daily sense fell on my shoulders.
I recognized the need to constantly make sure I was putting my primary job - being a mom to my three precious charges - first. But, I'll confess, sometimes it was hard. I sometimes felt overwhelmed and stressed. I cannot deny it. And then I would worry I wasn't being enough for my kids, much less my husband.
In 2004, I almost broke. That was a dark season for me. In the end, though, the dark season made me stronger. Ready to be who I was called to be during that season: wife, mother, helper, outreach coordinator, mobilizer, bridge-builder, friend of nations.
The Here and Now
Reflecting upon those many years as the kids were little, I realize overall, I did a decent job. At least "above average." One thing I do remember is, in spite of all the exhaustion, I possessed this internal drive to do them well. To keep my eyes on the endgame, on the prize. I wanted kids who, as young adults, would be able to find their way forward in this world. Healthy, balanced and whole.
Indeed, time has marched on. Those little ones are now all bigger than me. (One is much bigger! I, at 5'6" (170 cm) feel dwarfed by his 6'1" (185.5 cm) frame.) At 23, 21 and nearing 18, they are forging paths on their own. The oldest is already married! (And we love our new daughter-in-law.) The second is currently in Kenya as I write this. The last is ready to forge ahead into a career in Film (writing, directing, etc.), his passion and longtime interest.
Which Takes Me to Today
Sitting on the precipice of that empty nest. Ready to push the last little (?) birdie out. What lies ahead? Will I weep? Will I rejoice? Will I move fully and confidently into the next season the Master Designer has for me?
Yes, I'll allow myself a bit of time to grieve the end of a season. But I won't dwell there too long.
I intend to take time to think. Rest. Breathe. Reflect. Dream. Consider the next. I have been building out my life in new directions.
I have been blogging for 2 ½ years now. I wrote a book last year. I have been working on developing this new venture, YourGlobalFamily, for a couple years now. We are committed to growing it into a movement with impact, one involving many people around the world, one to outlive ourselves.
I am not done yet.
How about you? Where are you in the childrearing process? How can you prepare yourself for the next season?
Image credit: Stencil