The Long Goodbye

I’ve always been pretty sentimental about things. My earliest memory of my sentimentality is crying outside my elementary school on the last day of fifth grade. I hate goodbyes. I hate when good things end. I don’t even really like change. So much so that I’m content to eat the same thing for lunch every day for weeks on end. I like the way things are to stay that way, for a very long time.

This is why motherhood is often so hard for me. Nothing stays the same for very long. In fact, the only constant about parenting children is that it’s constantly changing. A newborn baby quickly becomes an infant. An infant moves into toddlerhood before you have time to catch your breath from just having had an infant. Toddlerhood leads to school age. Elementary school leads to teenagers. Teenage years lead to college, which means they are gone. And now I’m already crying over something that’s at least sixteen years away.

I’ve been feeling this coming change acutely as we prepare for the arrival of our third son in just a matter of weeks. I never had a chance to really prepare for anything with the twins since they came so early, so this time around I’ve been a lot more introspective (with all the extra time to prepare). With each passing week I’m more aware of how the new normal of our life these last two years is about to give way to a whole new normal, one I’ve never done before. I’ve never had three kids. I’ve never had one baby at a time (THAT I hope is easier!). I’ve never been pregnant past 32 weeks.

But I’ve also been aware of how this life I’ve had with the twins (just us three a lot of the time) will now include one new precious person. My time will now be divided three ways, instead of two. And I can already feel the pressure of splitting my time between all of them, knowing that in a lot of ways I’m going to miss more opportunities with them than I would like simply because I’m one person limited by the constraints of time, energy, and quite frankly, only two hands.

As I’ve grown into this motherhood thing I’ve started seeing motherhood as sort of a long goodbye. While we all are on a journey of this long goodbye from the moment we take our first breath, parenting has a way of making you feel like everything is the beginning of the end in such profound ways. Motherhood is a temporary vocation. It won’t last forever. While I will always be their mom, I won’t always mother them in this way. One day, a long (but all too short) day from now, I will let them go. Everything I have taught them will not be practice any longer, it will be reality.

And I feel an ache in my soul about it all.

Most moms have had it said to them “the days are long, but the years are short.” And oh, how short they are, aren’t they? With each step we take on this long goodbye, we are reminded that each passing day is one that we won’t get back. They will never be two year olds playing in the snow for the first time again. Next year, they will be one year older, and allowing us to see the world from their eyes in a whole new way. But it will be one step closer on this long goodbye.

Understanding the reality of the long goodbye is more than just coming to terms with the ache of motherhood. It has theological undertones that find their hope in something greater than simply treasuring every moment of each passing day (though that is certainly a good and right thing). If my hope is in holding on to the moments that I know won’t last forever, then my joy will be determined by the limited nature of these days. But if my hope is in the fact that all of my days are guiding me towards a greater joy in the presence of my Savior, then I can trust that even the tears shed over fleeting moments aren’t in vain. They mean something. The answer is not holding on to my sentimentality anymore than it is in pretending like my heart isn’t experiencing the reality of living in a world that is passing away. Neither of these will bring me lasting comfort. But in the times of my greatest sadness over the temporal nature of motherhood, and this life in general, I must run not to my circumstances, but to the precious reality that one day Christ will return, make all things right, and wipe away every tear from my eyes—even the tears I shed on this long goodbye.

Motherhood, like all of life, is cursed by the fall—meaning it’s not what God intended it to be. It’s painful and it ends. So as we walk the road of this long goodbye called motherhood let us hold in tension the reality of enjoying this life, one day at a time, and longing for the perfect one to come.