My oldest daughter, Chloé, just returned from serving an 18 month mission in Arizona a few weeks ago. I’ve been thinking about the day she left to serve, (3 months after graduating from high school). She was the first to leave our home, and if that didn’t completely rip open my heart, then the day my second daughter, Elsa, left for BYU a year later, definitely finished the job.
The weeks working up to the day Elsa left were filled with an anxiety that only a mother could conjure up over her children leaving the nest. My mind churned through the years. The nap time hustles, Joy School (pre-school co-op) teaching days, elementary school (remember that initial thought that 7 whole hours of your children enrolled in all day school would mean you would have 7 extra hours in a day? Uh huh, you might get in a workout or a 15 minute shower, but probably not both). And those 7 hours are now filled with two part time PTA jobs, one where you count Box Tops from cereal containers and beg businesses to sponsor playground equipment, and the other part is being the room mom that plans Halloween costume awards and managing 28 sugar infused kids after a few rounds of Conversation Heart Bingo on Valentines Day. Junior high was definitely the “hold your breath, I hope my kid survive” era. And by high school, I quit holding my breath and tried breathing through it all. Namaste. But I never really planned out or thought about the day they would actually leave the nest. I thought I would be ready. I really thought I’d feel on top of the world and ready to pursue my own professional dreams at the sound of the start gun. But the reality of this mom job is that after each daughter left, each took emotional pieces from my heart, packed them in their suitcase and just left me with an aching void, numb of all the passion that I long waited to put my heart into at the “let freedom ring” moment. I felt this little pain in my chest, and began to notice that when the feeling would come on, it was always after I asked myself, ‘Did I do this “mom” thing right?’
I sat in their empty room (but not empty enough) shortly after Elsa moved down to BYU, and imagined that any minute they would walk through our front door with loud bursts of infectious laughs and friends trailing behind looking for food. I began asking questions in my head. Did I teach them right? Or did I totally screw them up for Dr. Phil to fix after they’d realized that eating at McDonald’s wasn’t really against our religion (yes, evidently I said that at some point in their childhood and they’ve never forgotten it)? I’m pretty sure Chloé still cooks frozen burritos in the microwave until the tortilla turns Jawbreaker hard. Will she sustain her life longterm with the small repertoire of no-fail Pinterest meals she can prepare? Did I put enough fear in Elsa to not hike or walk home alone at night, to always wear a helmet and buckle up, and definitely only use the crosswalk after looking both ways? Do they know what one stray red sock could do to a washer full of brand new white shirts and underwear? Have I impressed upon them enough that a shower after basketball and mountain biking isn’t optional? ( I raised tomboys) Oh dear, I almost fear the answer to that question the very most. But on a more serious note, I began to wonder if I shared my spiritual convictions enough so that when they have questions about their own spirituality, they know where to turn for answers. With the weaknesses and failings in my life, I suddenly felt so inadequate and guilt ridden that I didn’t teach them properly.
After all my fears began to take over my hopes, the thought came to me that Matt and I did two things right. And it might be all we did right. But it just might be all that they really needed us to do right.
If these were the only two things we taught our girls, and if only through our actions, I felt comfort in believing that these life habits would be the most effective lessons they could have learned from us. Each letter my missionary wrote the family always began and ended with “the work”. She often wrote, “The work is so hard, but so worth it.” The first phone call my college student daughter made after moving to Provo last fall was to tell me how exhausted she was after the first day of school because she had to “work so hard”. So with this on my mind, when I came across these words from President Gordon B. Hinckley shortly after Elsa left for BYU, I felt an emulsion of peace and comfort working in my heart, and a relief to that little ache at the top of my chest that we did in fact teach them to pray and work. I then went down to my basement, cleared off a section of my work table, put my pen to the paper, and began to hand-letter the words, “Get on your knees and pray, then get on your feet and work.” It’s always a good formula. I hope knee-patched, worn-out overalls are what my kids inherit from their mother and father.
This guest post was submitted by Aimee Ferre. She grew up in the desert of East Mesa in Arizona, but married a mountain loving Utah boy. She currently lives in Sandy, Utah and is a mom to 3 daughters. She owns a small crafting business where she creates holiday decor and specializes in hand-lettering. You can always find her creating new projects or planning gatherings for friends and family. Follow her on Instagram to see what is currently on her desk or find her blog at www.aimeeferre.com