I didn’t want to cry. I had a long drive and a lot of ground to cover to get back home. I would cry at home, and I knew I would, when I got there and faced his empty bedroom. He wouldn’t be home for dinner that night, and not for a long time. It felt like the first day I took him to kindergarten, but this was his first day of medical school, 1300 miles away from home. My daughter and I started the long drive that would take us back the way we had first come when we met my husband and son in North Eastern Missouri. They had driven out together with Al’s little Honda Civic laden down with all it could manage: books, laptop, iPad, clothes, and even his prized guitar.
I was glad to be leaving the humid heat where my hair can’t be tamed and my skin decides to form pigment where it doesn’t belong. I longed for my air-conditioned home and my husband who had gone home a week prior. I had now been in Missouri for more than two weeks. I was at the same time sad to leave this pretty place with green rolling hills and clouds that went all the way to the Atlantic. My son would stay—where he belonged, at medical school with his childhood dream finally being realized. Ains and I had stayed for the white-coat ceremony, a very big deal for new medical students where they take an oath of humility, earnestness, honesty, and diligence as they begin their journey to become a healer. John was able to watch it via live stream so we were technically all there. Now it was time to go home to my responsibilities, Ains to her new job as a junior high math teacher, and me to my darling husband who had to go home early for his new job and his calling as bishop in our congregation. But my heart hurt. And it rejoiced. Can it really do both at the same time?!
Two decades ago exactly, I was backpack shopping for a little 5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl, because she wanted to be like her brother. Alex started kindergarten and Ainsley cried because he was gone and she had no one to play with for those long 3 hours each day. I struggled to get all I needed to get done in such a short time on those kindergarten days. I was barely able to exercise, shower, dress, clean the house, get a good idea for dinner, all before the little boy came home from school, back to play with Sissy. On that first day of kindergarten, Al exclaimed, “school is so boring!” Why?—I asked. He retorted, “we learned about ORANGE! I already know my colors! I’m five!” And thus began his years in elementary where he was completely bored out of his skull, quite literally, B-O-R-E-D. There are home videos of Al “singing” in the kindergarten program, looking around at all his classmates, who happened to actually be singing, with a look on his face as if to say, “we’re doing this, why?”
Once, in 9th grade Honors English, Alex begged me to talk to Mr. Webb and “let him out of Honors, back into regular English.” I was so fatigued of the boy’s constant complaint of reading Charles Dickens that I humored him and brought it up at parent-teacher conference. Mr. Webb would have nothing to do with it. “No,” he said; “he can do it and so he should—Alex is too smart for ‘regular English.” That was a fun car ride home, with a mad adolescent. It was the beginning of where we are now, with him starting medical school.
There were the weekly violin lessons started at age five and ending at ages 17 and 18. Twelve years with Alex and 13 with Ainsley. That’s how long I sat at a violin lesson every single week for two hours. Every single week unless someone had a fever, cough, or we were out of town. I cried during the last lessons for both Alex and Ainsley. So much of our time as a family had been wrapped up in music. Traveling to fiddle contests around the country, staying in sketchy motels sometimes because everything else was already booked. I went to every single event, performance, practice for music, baseball, basketball, tennis, 4-H, swimming, and science fair.. And now, I was there for the white coat ceremony and Ains was there, the loving little Sissy, cheering her brother on, and John at home, bringing up the rear and watching on TV. High school graduations, college graduations, and now white coat ceremonies. Next, we’ll have a wedding, when Alex marries his soul mate, Katlynn in the fall. Ains will start her first full year teaching math at a junior high.
This morning, before Alex rode his shiny bike down the gravel road to school, we posed for some silly selfies to send to John. I sat there with them as we tried to make each other laugh for the pictures and like a wave, it all fell on me at once. Where had the time gone? I mean, really? It had escaped, I thought. How could this really be happening? We had prayed with and for our kids when their academic loads seemed too heavy to bear, when they faced stress and uncertainty about their dreams ever becoming realities. We always told them to just keep going, one day at a time and it would all work out. We encouraged them to seek to learn, to desire to share their learning with others, to lift and support their friends, to take care of themselves and have balance, to treat their musical talents as a gift that would make them happy and others joyful. We’d taught them to make God and family their priority. We taught them to work hard. In fact, one of our family sayings is “we work before we play.” Now it’s harvest time and the fruit is sweet and beautiful.
I remember the first time Alex went to Scout Camp. He took off down the street to his leader’s house, his backpack strapped on, and he didn’t turn back. He was confident as he nearly ran, he was so excited and ready. On the day we took him to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) to begin his mission for our church in the Dominican Republic, his eyes were full of tears and his voice choked up, but he did not look back as he spun his suitcases forward into his new adventure. We would not see him for two years, but he was ready. I kept looking, watching him all the way until I could no longer see him, but it would only be in pictures and four phone calls in those two years that we could talk to him or see him.
Right now I’m on a plane, flying back home. I hate how quickly it can take me away from my child. I can’t see Alex and he can’t see me, but that’s okay. I know he will be safe, successful, and happy where he is in Missouri. For reasons I don’t understand yet, I know he is supposed to be there. I think it’s because of the people he has already met and will continue to meet, and for the first-rate education he will receive, for the history about our country and our church he will learn while living there, and for the people he will come to love and serve alongside his new bride. This new home for Alex is as much about what he can do for others as it is for what he will gain by going to school there. He is there to learn and to lift, to study and to share, to practice and to pray, to sacrifice and to serve, to love and make a family—a new family of his very own. And the sweet relief is I know Al will be back, a lot, to visit, maybe even to practice medicine; and we have texting and emails and face time. And there are planes and trains and cars that take mothers and fathers and sisters to Missouri to visit.
I have a lot to do at home. My artwork has been sitting too long, needing to be photographed and cataloged, sold and shared. My writing needs to come out of hiding and the images in my camera need to be uploaded and married with Photoshop. My husband needs to be held and my daughter needs a back rub and help getting her new classroom ready. My dog needs some snuggling and my laundry needs doing. I have a job I love that I've missed and I'm excited to get back to work. I do have a life to get back to, a wonderful life, actually. It’s the life that produced two smart and capable, brave and kind children. I’m proud of my life. I’m thrilled that our family will soon grow and we will be blessed with a new daughter in our son’s soon-to-be wife. Hopefully, one day we’ll be grandparents and we can begin the joyful journey with children all over again, just this time taking direction from our children. It will be glorious when that happens.
Until then though, I’m going to promise to remember how I felt as we drove out of that town in beautiful Missouri this morning. I felt completely at peace with a warm feeling up and down my whole body and all the way inside to my very soul, a beautiful and safe feeling that made me smile and shed a few tears. Do you know what that feels like? It’s the feeling God sends to us through the Holy Ghost to comfort us when He knows our hearts are about to be really sad or scared—to tell us everything will be okay. I felt a distinct impression in my mind that told me, “I’ve got him, Gina—he’s going to be perfectly fine and you don’t need to worry.” I trust that feeling completely, for I’ve learned that I can.
Sometime this afternoon, while I’m having a layover in Los Angeles, Alex will ride his bike home to his new apartment and turn on the air conditioner as he makes himself a delicious stir-fry for dinner and begins his studying. He’ll think it’s awfully quiet and he might be a little sad, maybe a lot overwhelmed with being asked to drink from the Mississippi all at once, but then the same warm feeling I had this morning will come to him and it will caress him and bury deep inside his heart where it will tell him how much his family loves him, how Katlynn misses and loves him, but most importantly, how much God loves him. It will tell him that God keeps His promises—always—when we keep ours. The special feeling will help him feel stronger, happier, safer, and like the Brother of Jared, if Alex will do the work and ask God to bless it, God will. And that is why I can go home and pick up the things I’ve been neglecting as we’ve prepared to make this journey out here. Because I know I’m not in charge and I’m grateful that I’m not. I don’t have to worry because I have the best Emergency Hotline in the world. So can you. All you need to do is get on your knees, or even sit in a quiet place. Close your eyes and either speak or think your pleadings to God--He is your Father. I promise you that He will hear you and He will answer you, but it might have to be in His own time. Don’t give up too quickly on Him---because God is never, ever late.
To you, dear Alex, my Independence Day kid: You’ve got this. You know who stands on your side. You've got beautiful Katlynn--enough said! You’ve got your family, both living and gone ahead, to cheer for and pray for your every success. You’ve got amazing friends who will be praying for you. You’ve got Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, who has called you to this mission to be a healer and so He will help you. He will comfort you when it’s hard, and pick you up when you’re too tired. You’ve got God your Heavenly Father, who knows all things and what exactly you need and when you need it. You know as well as I do that He is never late. Look at all that’s happened to prove it. I love you and you know that too. Four years from now when you’re ready to do your residency, you’ll say, “already—where did the time go?” So, just take it one day at a time. Love Katlynn. Work before you play. Work hard. Give it your all. Get good sleep and eat well. Play basketball. Play your guitar. And, pray. And don’t look back, because you’re ready and we’ll always be here. Forever. Wub you mahups, Mom.