On Saturday, August 11th, my oldest turned eight. Not eight weeks or eight months, but eight years. Yes, I blinked. Even when I was warned not to.
Leading up to his birthday, we had a few conversations planning his big day. Normally, we would host a party and invite our closest family and friends to help celebrate him.
Much like the tide before it rolls in, we know that it’s coming. So why then are we flabbergasted when we notice that we’re suddenly standing ankle-deep in ocean water?
That's how I felt when we crossed an invisible threshold this year by having a “Friend Party.” Only.
And it wasn’t our friends that were invited, but his friends.
I was unprepared for the moment when we decided to not call his aunts and uncles, Neenah and Poppa, and our Staff, but rather a handful of his buddies to invite to his party.
And guess who wasn’t invited to said party?
Ok, perhaps I’m being a little melodramatic...
It wasn’t that I was uninvited, it just made more sense for me to take his younger siblings back to the house for their Sunday-afternoon naps before joining the party later on that evening.
When I presented this idea to my husband and oldest the day before, there was no hesitation from my soon-to-be eight-year-old. Instead, there was a very matter-of-fact, “Yes Mom, you can come out later.” And the word “later” sounded a whole lot like, “I don’t need you anymore.”
I wasn’t being shoved out. Not even scooted out. I was just experiencing my own version of what another year older looked like. And this year it looked like Mom wasn’t needed at Friend Party. Dad was.
The plan was set in motion and after my husband preached five times that weekend, he graciously buckled the birthday boy, his younger brother, and four of his buddies in the Jeep to take them out to our campsite at South Sabula Lake Campground to do “boy stuff.” You know, like catching frogs, climbing trees, shooting each other with Nerf guns, and burping and asking if anyone heard it.
I grew up with two younger brothers and am familiar with what “boy stuff” looks like. It’s loud and messy and having the littles nap back at the house was certainly the wise choice. It was also the painful, selfless choice.
I wasn’t begged to stay and had to keep my own vulnerable emotions out of it. My baby was turning eight and was slowing letting go of his Momma.
It was normal.
And in those few hours while naps were underway, I came to realize that normal doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
Yes, this birthday hit me hard. He was the one growing up and here I was the one experiencing the growing pains. Normal, yes. Easy, no.
If I were to forget my purpose as a mother, I would have been overcome with emotion when my eight-year-old birthday boy didn’t need me at his Friend Party.
The truth is, I am not raising babies, but adults; and it's imperative to keep that within my sights as my children continue to grow and develop into independent, self-propelled individuals.
In my heart, I know that I’m training them to leave me one day in order to follow God’s design: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:31)
But in my selfishness, I want to hold onto them forever.
It’s this tension of wanting my children to stretch their wings and fly, and yet beg them to watch out, be careful, and hurry home when they are through.
Because when our children are little and we’re running off of coffee that’s spent more time being reheated in the microwave than in our hands and we’re wearing the same sweatpants and underwear for two (going on three) days in a row, we long for a breath. And a break. And some sleep.
And then when we finally get all three, we long to hold their sweet, milk-drunken bodies in our arms and kiss their squishy cheeks all over again.
It’s the epitome of bitter/sweet as I have found that Motherhood invented it.
My husband did a great job with the boys that afternoon and kept everyone hydrated and alive (which I feel needs its own special shout-out). And when I showed up to the party hours later with mini-Gatorades, S’mores, and enough hotdogs and buns to feed those boys for days, I did my best to be chill and observe our real-time stage of parenting we had just entered...
We had an eight-year-old. And he had eight-year-old friends. And they were boys being boys, having fun. And if I could have frozen time that evening out at the lake, sitting around the campfire roasting hotdogs and S’mores with them, I would have.
I am certain that when we get a little further down the road and he starts asking to borrow the Jeep, take a girl on a first date, and moves out of the house, there will be even more invisible thresholds that we’ll have to cross.
And although I’m unprepared for those future moments, I can trust the One who holds my future. I can also entrust my son’s future to the One who knows it well: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
So, for all the moms who have successfully crossed these thresholds, thank you for going ahead of me. And for all the mommas that have yet to cross this particular one, here are a few things that I learned through the process:
- There will be times when it’s ok not to be ok.
- Keep your sights up. Raise adults, not babies.
- Never show up to a Friend Party emptyhanded. Remember the food. Enough to ensure that you will be the one eating hotdogs for days.
- Normal doesn’t necessarily mean easy, but no one said it would be.
- You’ll have an entire year to come to grips with where you’re at right now.
- You may feel uninvited to the party, but show up anyways. With a smile. And your big-girl panties. (Because it’s not always about you.)
- Remember the food.
- Make friends with his friends.
- Return them home safely. Afterwards, take a big sigh of relief. No one died.
- When the dust settles, hug your birthday boy and tell him how happy you are that God gave him to you. And how proud you are of him. And that no matter how old he gets (Friend Party or not) he’ll never outgrow him being your baby and you being his Momma.