Michelle Hamel ponders the ways transitions in our children's lives demonstrate our lack of control over the changes to come.
August is a month of transition for many families. A new school year is either starting or getting ready to start. There are a range of mom emotions that accompany the impending start of school. Some moms can.not.wait for school to start and for life to get back into a consistent routine after filling a summer with activities to keep kids occupied and make memories. On the opposite extreme, some moms grieve as the end of summer approaches and their kids get ready to launch into another year of growing and changing.
Some years include transitions with a capital T: the milestone years. My youngest son will be in eighth grade this year, and my baby girl, who is definitely not a baby, is entering middle school. But the biggest transition this year is happening to my son, Peter. Peter is severely affected by autism and turned 22 on the very last day of July. Peter has been in his current collaborative since he was 7. He has been in only 4 different classrooms in 15 years, mostly with the same kids.
The morning I wrote this, I attended the last IEP meeting for Peter. It was really just a formality. In less than a week, Peter would age out as a student cared for by the school system and his IEP doesn’t mean anything. My level of emotion at the relatively short meeting surprised me. I'm not usually a "crier," but I couldn't stop the tears from sliding down my cheeks as different people spoke. I was able to relay my thanks to our SPED director and Peter's teacher as I planned, but it was with a quivering voice. The minute the call ended, I stopped trying to control the sadness and sobbed freely.
My tears happened for so many reasons. Peter's journey in the school system began as a 3-year-old little guy with no language and is ending as a full-grown, 6-foot-tall man who is able to communicate and care for some of his basic needs independently. It has been a long, often hard, road to get to this point.
"Graduating" into adult services, where the care is very different, is a bit scary. No longer receiving his care through a place that felt safe is a big loss for us. Having to hear Peter articulate, "I'm graduating on Thursday. I'm going to miss my friends. I'm going to miss my teachers," breaks my heart every time he says it. (Which is multiple times an hour. Peter repeats and perseverates on things in order to work through them.)
I wish I could save him from this heartache and make the transition easier, but I can't. Isn't that the plight of a mother's heart ... when "magic mommy kisses" no longer solve our kids' real-life problems?
Motherhood is always growing and stretching us in new ways. There is the literal stretching of growing a new little person in our body, the physical sacrifices of pregnancy and birth, and the exhaustion of sleepless nights and constant care. As children grow, their needs change and the demands on our emotional and mental energy outweigh the physical demands, but it's still never easy. Those teenage years as they practice pushing off from us and attempting independence can be downright painful—just as painful as all the pushing we did to bring them into the world.
The trouble with transitions is that they highlight the fact that we really aren't in control of anything. Transition means change is coming, whether we are ready and willing or not! While we can do all the things to prepare to make a transition go more smoothly, the hardest thing to prepare is our hearts.
It's much easier to check off a to-do list than to sit with the grief and the loss of the way our lives are shifting and the way our family will change. It's hard to step out from what is known and comfortable and start off on a new path that we aren't at all sure about. New paths stretch our trust muscles that God is going to work everything out and hold us as we travel this unknown land.
Transitions definitely highlight how much I like to imagine that I'm the one that's in the driver's seat. Change is an opportunity to work on surrender and cast off the cape of self-sufficiency that I'm inordinately attached to. Transitions are a reminder that my children ultimately belong to God, that He has a plan for each of them, and that He loves them more than I ever could.
In the midst of change, let's lean on Saint Zélie, a fellow mom who can intercede for us in Heaven:
The Good Lord does not do things by halves; He always gives what we need. Let us then carry on bravely.
Copyright 2023 Michelle Hamel
About the Author
Michelle is a wife, mom of eight, and grammy of 3 (with more on the way!). She spends her time reading, writing, and searching for good recipes to cook for her growing family. Her favorite things to do include spending quiet time in Adoration, shopping for baby clothes, and planning vacations. She loves to write about topics that feel God-inspired in order to encourage and comfort women. Michelle blogs at Normal Chaos.