The shadows of tall North Carolina pines flickered quickly past on my right. The morning was cold and crisp as we sped up I-95 northbound. A scene played in front of me in my mind’s eye. I saw our five year old dashing out into the Gulf of Mexico before I hardly had a chance to keep up with her. She followed her older, taller brother into the water. I quickly discarded my sweater, pulled my swim cap over my head, and adjusted my swim goggles; all while glancing across the sand, eyeing her in the water. We were at a Gulf beach along the coast of Florida. Surely the water wasn’t too deep, but it was a breezy day and regular waves, though small, were making their way along the coast, pushing water and swimmers southward.

I watched her carefully as I made my way into the water. Perhaps now was a good time for a water safety discussion, though I was also curious to see how her swim lessons were progressing. Austin usually took her to lessons, and I rarely saw her practice. As a larger wave approached and covered her, I waited nearby, wondering if she would come up spluttering and crying. I couldn’t tell if she was prepared for the submerge in salt water.

The wave crashed and made its way towards the shore. Her head popped up out of the water and she looked around excitedly. Another wave came; under again, then up again. She squealed as she treaded water, then found her footing as the depth changed with the rhythm of the Gulf. “Mommy, I love it! I love this beach! Can we go here again?” She kept squealing, trying to jump waves, sometimes getting submerged, but always popping up again. She was definitely her mother’s child.

I held the image of her laughing and squealing excitedly in my mind’s eye for just a few moments longer. Suddenly, I realized tears had formed at the corners of my eyes and were threatening to spill over. I quickly shot a sideways glance at Austin, who sat in the passenger seat catching up on work emails, then regained my composure. He didn’t notice. Mentally I returned to the Gulf again. Now many of our kiddos were joining me in the water. Some were attempting to float on the waves further out as I explained to them the effect of salt water on buoyancy. Our eldest was catching a wave just right with a body board. He hollered all the way to shore. I caught a wave too and yelled as it propelled me up to the sand. Austin sat nearby perusing the rocks and shells, searching for shark teeth. It was a day I wished wouldn’t end.

I do love them. More tears threatened. I do love my kids. I do enjoy being with them. How did I forget how much I enjoy them?

Somewhere, in the grind of this weird and stressful fall, full of virtual school difficulties, school board arguments, pleas to special ed for in-person help, and the never-ending pandemic efforts, we had suddenly decided to head to Florida for a few days. It was rash, maybe. It was the sort of trip that we didn’t budget for and blew our money on anyway. It was the sort of thing responsible adults couldn’t do all the time. But it was also the sort of thing that family connection sometimes requires. For several blissful days, the kids were getting along. They were engaged in their surroundings, learning so much from the museums, the outdoor adventures, the time we were having. We were learning and growing and relaxing together. The stress of school, the bordom of Zoom crashes and app login problems and all the arguments they involved were hundreds of miles away and everyone was freer. As it turns out, on our way home we got news that our recently (partially) opened district was going to be closing again soon.

I know I’m not the only mother out there who wrestles with this thought from time to time: I feel suffocated. These children who are supposed to be such a blessing, such a gift from God, are suffocating me. Will they ever, EVER turn 18 and move out? I don’t know about you, but this pandemic has pushed our family connection and our marriage into new territory, and it has been unpleasant. It has been challenging, and with winter approaching and another school shutdown beginning, it is certainly not over.

We can’t always be on vacation, but our recent family excursion has reminded me, yet again, about priorities. The connection we are trying to build within our family is very important and needs to somehow, even with all the outside stressors, stay in focus. Christ, help us. Help us be like you in our interactions with each other. Help us rely on you when we are under pressure. You will always see us through. Amen.