The one constant in life is change.
It’s a saying just odd enough to be true, and it is. The only thing we can rely on happening in our lives, no matter our age, our wealth or lack thereof, where we live or how we live, it won’t stay the same. Oh, elements of it might; the big things might not shift today, or maybe they will. Or the small details might remain static for a time. But trust me, the time will come when change will come to you, whether from an outside force or from deep within your being.
I was going to say that 2017 has been a year of change for our family, and it has been. But then again, so was 2014, and to some extent, 2015. The difference was that those were smaller, less-perceptible shifts. This year, we had two types of change: one that took us by surprise (mostly) and required adjustment after the fact. The other type we could see from a distance and prepare for its arrival.
My husband’s parting from the church wasn’t a shock, but it was a surprise, and what happened in the aftermath put all of us through an emotional wringer. The departure of our youngest daughter, Cate, for college in Maine was neither a shock nor a surprise. We’d known since she began her career at Seminole State College that she’d be transferring somewhere for her last two years of school. There was a possibility that it might have been in-state, at University of Florida, but once she won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, that choice dropped down the list. Her number one pick was Unity College in Maine, and that is where she’s going.
If you haven’t looked at a map in a while, Maine is just about as far as you can get from Florida and still stay on the Eastern seaboard. It’s a 21+ hour drive. Cate won’t be popping home for quick weekend visits. I won’t be driving up there to have lunch with her mid-week when she’s struggling with a class or a situation. Once we drive away next Sunday–a week from tomorrow–I probably won’t see her until Thanksgiving.
Now, this isn’t the first time she’s gone away. After graduating from homeschool a year early, she took a gap year and spent it with a family in Gettysburg, where she worked and learned and grew. She was gone from February through August that year. But somehow, that was different. That year, I saw her in March and in May and in July. I can get to Gettysburg in a one-day drive; I’ve done it. Plus, she was living with the Youngs, who quickly became her second family, in an area that was familiar, only about two hours from our South Jersey family. That was different than sending her to a place where she knows not a soul, will be living in a dorm situation for the first time ever and will be mostly on her own.
Cate is the youngest girl in our family, so this isn’t the first time we’ve experienced change. Our oldest daughter has been married six years, and that was an adjustment, but she and her husband live about 30 minutes away, and we are blessed that we see them about every week. Our other two are still at home, and we are very cognizant how lucky we are to still have them here. We won’t be empty-nesters for a while.
Last night, we went down to Disney World to see the fireworks and meet with the some friends so Cate could say good-bye to them. I stood there at the Polynesian, watching the display of lights, and I thought back ten years, to the summer we moved to Florida. I’ve written about that time before. My parents had both just died, within a year of each other. In the two weeks following my mother’s passing, our oldest daughter graduated from high school, we moved both our home and my mother’s to our new house in Florida. We said good-bye to the place that my husband and I had both called home from childhood, and where we’d lived for thirteen years.
Talk about change!
I used to say that the first year after we’d move was all about healing, and it was. But looking back now, I think actually the past ten years have been about healing . . . and growing. Ten years ago, I hadn’t written a book. I’d never been anything but a stay-at-home homeschooling mom and a wife. Ten years ago, Clint worked for a paint company and dreamed of going to seminary. Ten years ago, our kids were 18, 15, 11 and 6.
In many ways, an outsider might assume that our lives won’t be changed too much by Cate leaving for college. All of the bedrooms in our small house will still be occupied. We’ll still have four around the dinner table. We’ll probably stick to a similar routine and lifestyle.
But it’s in the small, precious parts of life that her absence will be most keenly felt. Often, Cate and I are the first two awake, and we’ve had deep, heart-wrenching, laughter-provoking, tear-laden, hysterical conversations around the breakfast table, over coffee. I know the house will be quieter, because Cate sings all the time, and never at a low volume. I know I’ll miss her quick drive-by hugs, her “I love you, Mama”s dropped into my lap at unexpected moments. I’ll miss her insights into what she’s reading, something she heard, something she learned . . . I’ll even miss her yelling at the cats.
In many ways, Cate is the daughter I’ve had the most combat with–when she was sixteen, she struggled with friend issues, with the need for freedom and with finding herself. She had the hardest adjustment when we moved from New Jersey to Florida. But those times of frustration for both of us somehow only made us closer. She’s the daughter who cries with me when I miss my parents. She’s the one who calls me on it when I’m being unreasonable or outright wrong. Cate speaks the truth to the best of her ability, and while it isn’t always what I want to hear, it always makes me think.
I’m so freaking proud of her. I know she is going to completely rock the rest of her college career. I know she is going adjust to life in Maine and love it. Her passion and drive may very well change the world. I want to encourage her with everything I have, and I will.
But I won’t say I won’t be sad. I won’t say the change won’t take some adjusting. Watching the fireworks last night, thinking over the last ten years and looking ahead to the next, I wondered what they might bring: weddings? Grandchildren? More farewells, both expected and otherwise? Probably yes, to all of the above.
I think the best way to cope with change that I’ve found is with gratitude. I can’t control what happens, but I can be appreciative of my blessings. I am so glad Cate was home these past two years for the start of her college career. It was wonderful to be part of that time. I’m grateful that my children not only love each other but truly like each other, and that they are all dreading this time of parting. If they didn’t mind it, it would be even sadder. I’m grateful that I made the decision to slow down at the start of the summer. The time I had with all of the family is something I’d never want to miss. I’m grateful for our week at the beach, for the laughter, the walks on the beach, the swimming, the movies, the food . . . I’m grateful that even when our lives and futures feel tenuous, we can rely on each other.
I have to go back to Supernatural for a quotation that says it best:
Other things may change us. But we start and end with family.