Our youngest son, Jon, starts college today. His brothers will say he has gotten away with gross transgressions of The Rules they all had to follow. Sorry guys, but it just ain’t true. Actually, he has probably been more scrutinized — and many times, rightfully so — because he has been tail-end Charlie, the unfortunate victim of us knowing all the ways the other four found to get in trouble. But, whatever the case, the nest gets emptied today. This is supposed to be a time to do one of two things: Rejoice at our new found “freedom,” or slide into a depressed funk about the sadness of it all.
We choose neither.
Our goal has never been to raise good kids. Our goal has always been to raise grounded, responsible adults. Like their parents, our boys have all made plenty of bad decisions. Like our parents, we have done our best to make them suffer the consequences of those decisions. So, while we are not thrilled about some of the things they have done, we could not be more proud of the young men they have become. Jon is no different from the other four in that respect. So, it is with bittersweet anticipation of the future that we watch him leave the nest. Maybe the departure of the previous four has dulled the sense sadness that comes with this day. We are hardened veteran parents now so the trauma of it all just rolls right off our backs.
No, that’s not it.
But we will also be happy. Not in the way the culture likes to portray it — leaping for joy because they’re finally gone — but with a sense of anticipation about seeing the fruits of our parenting labor. We look forward to celebrating their successes with them from the back of the room, watching them from behind their own future families and friends. We look forward to consoling them in their disappointments, knowing that those disappointments will make them stronger, even if they won’t want to hear it from us. We look forward to offering our advice, but only if they ask for it.
This big house will seem even bigger now. The quiet will probably be deafening. But in our hearts, we will still hear the patter of tiny feet and the concussive thud of hands (and heads) bursting through the basement walls. We will look to a rusting backyard trampoline and long for the squeak of its springs. We will watch the trees grow bigger and the grocery bill get smaller. We will relish the productive, successful men they are, no matter how much money they earn or what kind of social status they achieve. We will take quiet pride in the courage and honor with which all of them have volunteered to serve.
These are not reasons to be sad. They are reasons to rejoice in the life they’ve given us just by being our boys. We will cry because we miss them, not because we’re glad they’re gone. And we will use our new-found “freedom” to travel all over creation to see them wherever they end up. There are five of them for God’s sake. We’ll have plenty of traveling to do.
Our lives may never be the same after today but we wouldn’t exchange it for anything. No one should ever question the gifts they get from God.