4 Years Left

I had an epiphany in the car tonight.

Does this ever happen to you? You’re riding alone, totally alone, half-heartedly listening to music on the radio while your mind is ticking off the mental checklist, like what to make for dinner tomorrow night and what you absolutely have to accomplish in the morning before you spend the afternoon shuttling the kids to doctor appointments and music lessons.

Then in that inevitable rabbit trail of the mind, I remember something a friend put on Facebook earlier today, and the next thing I know, I’m thinking about my son, 14 years old, about to graduate middle school, and I quickly calculate.

Four more years.

That’s it???

I have only four more years with this child-man that I have nurtured and disciplined and laughed and cried with. This person who is a literally part of me could be on his own in as little as four years.

It was like a sucker-punch to the gut. I seriously felt like I couldn’t breathe for a minute and emotion threatened to take over as I drove along, the headlights from oncoming cars creating ominous shadows across my dashboard.

Just a normal day, like every other day, plodding along and then a reality of life hits you in the face.

You think you have forever when your kids are little, and sometimes it seems like the weeks will never end. You don’t even contemplate a day when they might not be there. Until you do.

And you realize that if the past 14 years have gone this fast, surely the next four will be a blink. There is so much life between now and then, of course, not the least of which is putting a set of car keys into his hands and sending him off on his first date and so many more milestones, but each one takes him one more step to independence and out of my grasp.

He’s still such a boy in some ways, ruffling my hair as he passes by and tormenting his little sisters. It hardly seems possible that independence is within his reach, but I know he will change drastically over the next few years.

My only solace is friends and family who are ahead of me in this parenting journey, watching how much they enjoy their teenagers and college students as they become adults and make life-changing decisions about where they will go and what they will be. I can only hope that I am as fortunate as they who have young children they truly enjoy. Not everyone is so blessed, but many are and I take comfort in that.

But any way you slice it or dice it, this is it. Four years. This is all I have.

So what will I do with it?

That is the question I am pondering tonight. Because I don’t want to have any regrets.

Maybe it means saying yes to going to that movie when I’d rather be working, or playing that game of Othello when I have laundry to fold and dishes to wash and pictures to edit and . . . Or spending a few extra minutes tucking them in bed and listening to them talk rather than being in such a hurry to move on to the next thing.

It’s not any one thing, it’s just being mindful of that fact that they won’t always be here.

My mom has had 20 years since my younger brother left home. Trusting the Lord blesses me with a long healthy life, I have practically a whole other lifetime after this parenthood gig — plenty of time for work and travel and accomplishments. I don’t ever want to look back and wish I had spent more time being present with my kids.