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.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot too! Definitely wanting to use our time wisely. My oldest is 11 but ever since she was 9 and I realized I was halfway done has had me really, really trying to enjoy our time together.

  2. Debbie says

    I so know what you mean and it really is a hard pill to swallow. I’m doing that now and my son is only 5 -ha ha! Although he is our only so that adds another layer of complexity to things…but I keep trying to remind myself that I need to “launch” him but I’d much rather keep him 5 forever…! (((hugs)))

  3. says

    I really enjoyed this article. I hear you, as I have 14 year old boy, too. Where did the time go? I have been so blessed to be his mom. A great reminder to slow it down, thanks!

  4. Lee Ann says

    Oh yeah! I have those feelings all the time. My oldest will be 21 in July and is finishing up her third year of college. My younger daughter turned 16 last month and has 2 years left of high school. I remember thinking when they were born that when they started school, time would just fly. Boy, was I right!

  5. says

    I felt exactly the same last year when my oldest turned 14! He’s 15 now and I’ve calmed down, but I had a real freak out about it at the time.

    He’s such a blessing and we have such a wonderful relationship. He’s such a fine young man and I’m so proud of him! I can’t wait to see what kinds of things he accomplishes as an adult.

  6. Liz says

    Jo-Lynne,
    I’m in the same boat! I have an almost 14 year old daughter heading to high school next year. Like you, we’ve recently had a health crisis with her, so that, along with ONLY 4 more years has definitely made me rethink decisions and how we spend our time. Saying yes has become a little easier (within reason). While I worry about a whole lot of different things in regard to the quickly passing future, I’m very excited, as you are, to watch her grow, make decisions and see her develop as an adult. Thank you for reminding me to slow down, have fun and hug her extra tight everyday! :)

  7. says

    I *may* have teared up while reading this. Mine are only 8 & 6 (until April) but still. I think about this a lot too. You said it exactly right, if these years have flown by then the next ones will too. Sometimes I’m excited about them being adults but mostly I’m freaking out hoping they are good teenagers!

  8. Susan says

    Three years left here. It’s why I said yes to the snowcone run today even though there was laundry to do, dinner to make, a laid off husband to emotionally encourage and taxes to pay. Three more years and no one will be here to make a snowcone run with me….and I’m pretty sure I will have to be medicated.

  9. Amy says

    I’m in the same situation. My husband and I just attended our son’s incoming freshman meeting at his future high school. I cried the entire way home. It doesn’t seem possible he is 14. He’s my baby. It’s comforting to hear other moms express the same emotions I’m going through.

  10. says

    Oh yes. When my oldest (a boy too) was in his final weeks of high school, he gave me a CD. On it was one song, simple, plaintive, sad, that always, always made me cry. I would play it in the car and just BAWL, thinking of him leaving. It was crushing. Now, he is 23, the next 2 kids are also graduated and gone, and I have only 3 years left with my baby. It’s a reminder that life it not static in any way. It’s always in flux. The key is to change and adjust with its flux, to learn to love the next stage before it slams you in the face. To let go of the previous stages and realize they were lovely, but they are over. I still miss my boy.

  11. says

    My oldest is going to be 16 at the end of this year. I cant quite believe how that happened. It is scary, and amazing, and heartbreaking, and exhilarating, He is getting to be so grown up, yet he needs me in so many ways yet, and I am so glad! In fact(and don’t tell him I shared this), he was so tired on Friday that he cuddled up with me on the sofa and took a snooze. Made me want to cry because it made me realize how much I missed it, and that it is never going to happen like that ever again. Makes me cry even more.

    Okay, enough tears. I am just going to keep enjoying ever moment with him, and guide him the best that I can.!

  12. says

    My son turns 15 tomorrow and this used to worry me as well. He has now turned the corner from boy to young man and it is exciting seeing him grow. We make sure to do plenty as a family with my 10 year old and 17 year old as well. I am relieved that my daughter is not moving out of home to another city to attend university next year so our family will stay together for a while longer.

  13. says

    Such wisdom here, friend. Yes, you can’t hold on, but you also can’t look back with regrets. Do whatever it takes to send him off with four good years of high school, yes, but also family, relationships, and love. He’ll be fine, and so will you.

    Just one word of warning–high school goes by like a blink and college . . . ? Don’t even get me started.

    • says

      YOU are one of the ones who inspire and encourage me. I am teary-eyed just sitting here THINKING about how it’s going to fly. One minute you’re in the throws of diapers and tantrums and you think you will be there forever, and the next you look back and realize that you’re almost done. It is so weird.

  14. says

    I think your definitely on the right track with what to do with the next four years. My oldest son is a freshman in college this year… watching him go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but there is so much joy in it at the same time. It’s truly wonderful to watch my kids begin to become adults and to see “the results” of our work over the years!

  15. Chris says

    I have three boys ages 15, 13 and 9. I had the exact same moment last year when I realized I only had 4 years left with my oldest. It definitely knocked me for a loop. But, I have to say that at 15 he is one of the most loving, funny, smart and interesting people I know. I love that he is older and we can have intelligent discussions and share the same humor. I am having as much fun with him now as I did when he was little. That said, I have to admit I am savoring every moment with my youngest a little bit more deliberately. Bittersweet…

  16. Michelle says

    Oh, I hear you too. I was watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics last night with my high school Freshman and Junior and it hit me, the next winter Olympics they will both be in college!!! YIKES! Time is precious, for in four years, I will be looking back on this moment. Enjoy the moment!!

  17. says

    Yes, in the same boat here – my oldest daughter is just a year behind your son. Like the commenter above, it hit me last night when we glanced at the Olympic closing ceremony and I realized that she’ll be 17 when they next have the winter games!

  18. says

    Beautiful post. Couldn’t agree more! The time with our kids is so short – way I want to maximize it all even though the days are long – those years are short! xoxo

  19. says

    I can so relate to this! My second-born child, and only daughter, will graduate high school, turn 18, AND go off to college this year. I could just about sob everytime I think about it. But, I’m also extremely excited for her and proud of her. We are so close and do a lot of things together. Now, every second together seems to be cherished more and more.

  20. Robin says

    Ok so this one made me cry. My oldest graduates this year. She’s been accepted to a college and we are making plans. I’m so excited for her but when I think about her leaving me I start sobbing. I will miss her desperately. Where did the time go??

    • Shari says

      Right there with you, Robin. My daughter graduates this year, and has already been accepted to college as well. Fortunately for us, it’s only about 20 minutes away. She’ll live on campus, so there’s that separation, but still I know it could be so much worse. Argh, we need a support group!!

  21. Tracy says

    Time with our kids sure does go fast. I’m on the tail end of those four years you’re looking at. My oldest just turned 18. 3 months till high school graduation. 6 months until he moves away and starts college. (sigh) I’d love to say that the last four years have been all rainbows and sunshine but the reality is there have been lots of “growing pains”. His and mine. Parenting an older teen (and now an adult) is a learning process. I’ve prayed through the tough days and cherished the fun ones. I only hope that I have given him all he needs to find happiness and success as he begins the next chapter in his life’s journey.

  22. says

    This is such a great post! It really makes me think about how my mom probably felt as I entered my teenage years. Except in our situation, my mother had two less years to spend with me because I attended a residential boarding school. This boarding school, highly intensive in math and science, was unique in that it admitted students as juniors in high school. I remember when I first got accepted, I was so thrilled because I thought that along with the new school came a new freedom. In those thirty minutes of happiness, I never thought once that my mom would be anything but happy for me. When I finally told her the news, she began to cry. Personally, I’m one of those people who does not necessarily display their emotions that often. But, as I moved away from home, I could honestly say that even though she probably missed me quite a bit, I missed her even more. On a random note, I’m pretty sure that my mom also strategically planned to have my baby sister so that as soon as I left, another one popped out and kept her company.

  23. says

    This is such a great post! It really makes me think about how my mom probably felt as I entered my teenage years. Except in our situation, my mother had two less years to spend with me because I attended a residential boarding school. This boarding school, highly intensive in math and science, was unique in that it admitted students as juniors in high school. I remember when I first got accepted, I was so thrilled because I thought that along with the new school came a new freedom. In those thirty minutes of happiness, I never thought once that my mom would be anything but happy for me. When I finally told her the news, she began to cry. Personally, I’m one of those people who does not necessarily display their emotions that often. But, as I moved away from home, I could honestly say that even though she probably missed me quite a bit, I missed her even more. On a random note, I’m pretty sure that my mom also strategically planned to have my baby sister so that as soon as I left, another one popped out and kept her company.

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