Not that long ago, I was making lunch for my younger kids as they started (for what had to have been the 1 millionth time) the animated movie Toy Story 3. If you are familiar with the movie, the very beginning can be very emotional for parents. Like I said, I’ve been forced to watch this particular movie so many times before but, for whatever reason, this time it caught me just right. I’m in the kitchen crying my eyes out watching this cartoon showing the little boy (Andy) grow up through various home movie clips. Now, Andy is going away to college and the movie is centered around Andy’s toys adjusting to this new chapter in their lives.
Seriously, I can’t watch commercials, videos of military moms & dads surprising their family or movies anymore without crying like a giant baby. I literally sat and watched a ten-minute video the other night about dogs being reunited with their owners. I was a mess. It’s like I have no control of my emotions anymore. I at least take solace in the fact the first step to recovery is acknowledging the problem.
As you read this, I will have already packed the entire Struble clan into the van and helped my two oldest daughters move 10 hours north of their mother and I. It wasn’t more than a week ago when our son left for Phoenix. He moved into his first apartment with one of his good friends. I currently find myself in the quandary; where did the time go?
The realization that I am sending my children out into the world is an exciting but gut wrenching feeling. Is it because we have six kids that this feels sudden? We’ve celebrated not having to buy diapers anymore, only to find out God had other plans.
Strollers are the worst! They take up so much trunk space so when you go shopping and you’ve forgotten to take the stroller out, there is only room for a gallon of milk and two bags of groceries. High chairs, cribs, and car seats have been part of our lives for so long, I guess I just missed the signs my life was quickly taking a very different turn.
But everything feels like it happened just yesterday. Do you ever have that feeling?
Take Jordan, my oldest. He was my shadow when he was just a little guy. When Jenna and I were first married, we volunteered quite a bit with local teens and I played a lot of basketball with teens in those days. Having Jordan never slowed us down from volunteering. As a matter of fact, with our older three kids, there was never a shortage of volunteers to babysit for us. It was just like yesterday Jordan was running around the gym with a basketball that was almost as big a he was. He would always somehow get hold of one of the colored micro mesh scrimmage vests we’d use while playing basketball to distinguish teams. Just the memory of him running around in his tiny toddler Air Jordans, wearing a team vest that was too big for his little body and a basketball in his hands, does not seem like it should be that distant of a memory.
Now Larisa, she constantly had a smile on her face and was the epitome of a daddy’s girl. She has always been a bundle of joy, looking for the next party. It seems just like it was yesterday when she loved to crawl up in my lap and give me butterfly kisses. When she learned mom wouldn’t let her crawl into bed with us at night, she would come to me and I would slide over to make room for her. This child was a tiny but mighty walking heat source so she would eventually take over the entire bed. (Jenna wasn’t a fan of sharing only a quarter of the bed with me.) Oh, and the trouble she got into because of her older brother. Like when he chopped up her hair or talked her into licking an electrical socket. Anytime there were tears though, they never lasted long and would give way to her bright Larisa smile. Lighting up any room she enters.
When Jenna found out she was pregnant with Natalie, she didn’t even say a single word, she just looked at me and smiled. It doesn’t feel all that long ago watching how meticulous Natalie was when she played and oh my goodness, the special impromptu plays, and songs that were performed. I don’t remember how old she was, but I remember the day I was at home with the kids and Natalie had cornered me into a debate about why she had to do something I was telling her to do. Her reasoning and the command she had of her words, I was in awe. I remember thinking, I’m in trouble because she’s smarter than I and she’s only a toddler. And her love for books before she could even read was uncanny (a girl after my own heart). How can those days be gone already?
My babies are moving on without us… without ME. I know in my heart this is a great and wonderful thing, but I can’t help but feel as one feels when leaving on vacation. “Did I remember to turn off all the lights? Did I close the garage door?” I guess as a dad I’m asking, “Did I tell them everything they need to know? Did I give them the tools they need to be a successful adult? Did I hug them enough or tell them I love them enough?” As someone who has control issues, I find myself freaking out a little bit.
But when I watch my kids today, I couldn’t be prouder of them. Of course, things aren’t perfect but to make perfect children was never my goal. Trust me, with me being their father, there was never a threat of that. My goal was to help create decent human beings. To create people who love deep, work hard, give generously, create constantly, and live passionately. I guess I’ve always wanted my kids to grow up to be people that live life to its absolute fullest. To push every boundary and to live without regrets.
I know there will be troubles and life will try to raise its ugly head to knock them back but I am quite confident that these incredible children I’ve helped raise, are going to be amazing adults. While I will probably still cry every time I see the beginning of Toy Story 3, I move into this new chapter of life misty eyed but so incredibly proud and happy for my kids.