Like Moses’ Mom, I Placed My Kid in a Basket — Okay, a Dorm Room, But What’s the Difference?

I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve left something undone — a sign that God has many blessings yet to give.

Henry Ossawa Tanner, “Moses in the Bullrushes,” 1921
Henry Ossawa Tanner, “Moses in the Bullrushes,” 1921 (photo: Public Domain)

Somehow, it was suddenly my turn to say it.

"They grow up so fast!” I called to a young dad as he walked along the mountain trail with his toddler. The tiny boy was the spitting image of my oldest son whom I just dropped off at college. I tousled the boy’s blonde curls and sighed, “Enjoy every minute!”

The day before this hike, I had left Haven at Franciscan University of Steubenville where he’d received a full academic scholarship to study engineering — which was truly astounding, because I was the one who had homeschooled him badly for most of his life. (I still barely know 8th-grade algebra.) Yet somehow, Haven will not only major in science and math, he’ll be taking elective theology classes from Dr. Scott Hahn, the man whose books led me into the Catholic Church almost 20 years ago.

"It’s a miracle!” my husband and I cried for joy when Haven received his acceptance letter a few months ago, “It’s a dream come true!”

And yet, I hate this.

But at the same time, I love this.

I keep calling Haven’s name at mealtimes. I glance into his room each morning, expecting to see big feet hanging off the bed. I hugged a doll to my chest in the Dollar Store the other day while I cried for a really long time in the cereal aisle. I almost bought the doll, but that would be weird — almost as weird as writing an article and telling strangers about it.

I keep trying to comfort myself by saying this is what I always wanted. As parents, we aim for our kids to be like Haven — hardworking, goal-oriented and faithful. I couldn’t be more proud of the man my oldest son has become. I’m just heartbroken it happened so fast. I have an emotional case of whiplash. My head is spinning from the blurry flash of light that was his childhood. Sure, he’ll be back for Thanksgiving and school breaks. Everyone keeps pointing that out. But I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve left something undone.

What did I forget to say? What did I forget to do?

What blessings did I fail to impart?

I’ve racked my mind for days and am starting to home in on the answer.

But before I get to that answer, let me talk a little bit more about the dad and toddler on the mountain trail.

After I offered the tiresome, age-old admonition, “They grow up so fast ... enjoy every minute,” I realized the words had been taking shape in my heart ever since the moment I laid my 19-year-old son in a river-bound basket — okay, it was a dorm room, but what’s the difference? — and sent him out on life’s tumultuous waters in faith, trusting God to guide him.

I repeated the common greeting/message to myself as the dad and little boy walked away, shocked this overused mantra had actually come out of my own mouth. (I should mention I’ve always found the saying annoying.) It often leaves me to wonder: How is it possible to enjoy EVERY minute of anything? Especially teenage years or the terrible twos? Still, after I said it, I froze in my tracks as dad and son threw rocks by the river, I meditated on the message as if it were the first time I ever really heard it: “They grow up so fast (yes they do!) ... enjoy every minute (okay, I’ll try even harder to do that with Haven’s brothers).”

And in the days that followed, I’ve reflected on this advice one parent casually passes to another, day after day, generation to generation. I’ve been humbled by its profundity and the fact I’m now a part of this chain of collected knowledge, but that’s not all. I’ve also come to figure out the thing I didn’t say to my child yet, the blessing that’s still to be given. And here it is: It’s the next phase of our relationship, which is certain to be our ongoing adult friendship.

It’s a friendship that can only take place in the way it’s meant to, particularly for my profoundly independent son, by him leaving. Thankfully, over the past week, I’ve experienced deep peace in praying for Haven in a more committed manner. I’ve also received meaningful messages from him via brief phone calls and short but precious texts — all signs that our relationship is far from over. Rather, a new chapter has only just begun.