She squeezes my neck and wraps her legs around my middle.
“I’m going to give you the biggest hug ever,” she says.
The world around us drifts away as all my senses narrow in on this one moment.
“Promise to miss me?” I whisper as I look into her eyes, the tears already pooling in mine.
She jumps into the car that will take her away for two weeks and waves “bye.” I circle the car to redeem a promised hug from my son and he doesn’t stop talking until I almost squeeze him too hard.
More hugs. More waves. A tearful good-bye in the parking lot of a Ruby Tuesday in Somewhere, Indiana and then they’re off and we’re off and I’m sloppy crying all over the dash of our now quiet, half-empty van.
They were happy and safe, our kids, in the capable hands of their grandparents, and this was not the first time we’d sent them away.
Two weeks without them was cause for both celebration and sorrow.
The tears were a bit of both.
She hands the baby and pack of wipes to her husband, who takes both and the hand of their young son and wanders to the video game area while she retreats back to the bathroom.
A move I well remember.
She lingers at the mirror as she washes her hands, checking her reflection, and I can almost hear her thoughts. Maybe this is her first chance to pause all day.
We have done this, traveled with babies, and I remember the exhaustion of changing diapers then taking my break or tag-teaming at the rest stop. I remember desperately and silently pleading that they would sleep for just one hour so we could have a noise break in the car.
The memories pushed forward through time until they were almost happening live as I watched this young family.
My kids were in another car in another state.
But for a moment, I forgot they weren’t with me.
My kids will never leave me.
Years ago I would have protested that statement, wanting nothing more than relief from the demands of parenting little ones.
Someday, I thought, they’ll be gone and we’ll have our days to ourselves again.
I believed that because we’ve been parents most of our married years, there would come a day when we would gain a measure of freedom. Parenting is exhausting and the thought that it might NEVER END filled me with dread.
Someday, they’ll leave. It became the mantra that would get me through the toughest days.
I lived for “someday.”
But the truth I’m discovering is both better and worse.
They will never leave because they are imprinted on our lives.
My heart bears their handprints; my soul their footprints and I cannot look at the world around me without thinking of them.
We pass construction equipment and I turn to tell my son, only to remember he’s not there. A train winds through the mountains and I point, ready to announce it before remembering the back seats sit empty.
Even in the silence, my husband and I recite the funny things our kids have said. I hear our daughter’s made-up songs in my head.
Because these two little humans have changed us forever and whether we know them for another day, another decade or nearly a lifetime, we are permanently marked.
I know now why women with grown children still tell the stories of their kids’ childhoods, why the growing up seasons are hard to accept.
I want my kids to grow up, to mature appropriately and become who God intends.
But wanting that does not mean I want to forget or erase the memories.
I want to remember.
I wake to a quiet house, well past my normal time to get up.
Husband at work, kids on vacation, and the house is mine for the day.
In half-awake, half-slumber, I’m sure I hear the kids rustling around in their room, certain their giggles fill the hallway as they greet the day.
But no, I remind myself, they’re not here right now.
It’s only the memories.
The house is quiet and empty of people but it’s full of memories.
And I’m beginning to think the best kind of life is the one that remembers.