I reach deep into darkness of the kitchen cupboard in search of last year’s lunch boxes.
I laugh when I open Benny’s and find a moldy PBJ from kindergarten. That thing is green. I toss it and prepare new lunches, sending them off to their first days of first and third grade.
As a mom, this lunch making ritual has become rote. An unassuming part of my daily routine. One I am happy to pass over to the older 2 boys once they enter high school.
But on this night in May, days before Ben finishes high school, I listen from the couch as he pads into the kitchen to make his infamous PBJ containing half a jar of peanut butter and so much jelly it squirts out the sides of the single piece of folded wheat bread. He reaches into the drawer for the brown bag and wrestles it open to insert his zip locked concoction plus other lunch time essentials like Gogurt and Oreos.
Many times, I’ve sternly shushed him for crumpling too loud followed by harsh whispers, “you’re going to wake up your litter brother!” and “turn off that bright light!” Other times, I’ve given him the side eye and pointed firmly in the direction of Zach’s bedroom.
But this night, I listen a little closer to the lunch making process. The reaching for and wrestling with the brown paper bag, the clinking knife in the jelly jar, the fastening of jar lids and closing of drawers and cupboards. The crumpling of the brown bag as it’s shoved into the overflowing fridge and Ben’s steps down the hall to his room.
Just days before this night, as I made out the grocery list, I wrote down Brown Lunch Bags. And then I realized. Ben graduates soon. I count the days … 1, 2 … 6 more days of lunches. I count the bags. There are enough. Except … I pause before bursting into tears … I don’t need to buy any more brown bags for Ben. Not this year. Not ever. He’s graduating from high school and from the nightly lunch making routine, and I can’t stand it. What in the world will I put in that drawer in the empty spot where the brown bags went? What in the world do I do with the empty space in my heart right now?
I’m crying over brown lunch bags, and I know all the mamas get it. This is a big deal, and the feelings go deep.
This brown bag ritual marks the end of a parenting era with Ben, and I don’t like it. I rather hate it. I’m not ready.
I cross off Brown Lunch Bags from the list, wipe tears, and move on with my day.
When Ben wanders into the kitchen for the lunch making process this night, I think about those last few bags. I think about the moldy PBJ from kindergarten, and I listen intently to the familiar sounds that often annoyed me— that were too noisy and disrupting to my quiet evenings. What were once distracting noises have now, for the few remaining nights, become soothing sounds to this mama’s ears.
Graduation comes fast. My heart hurts. A tsunami of precious memories and pain of loss co-mingle and flood me simultaneously. I don’t know how to navigate this new territory between raising my son and releasing him.
Can we just go back to all the days of “firsts” instead of “lasts”? First tooth, first smile, first laugh. Beginnings seem so much easier than endings.
I carry these contrasting emotions equally inside. They co-exist, and I don’t silence them. I feel them, name them, experience them. Something about the joy mixed with pain, the beginnings and endings … is the journey of parenting. And really, the journey of life.
How do I embrace, even cherish, both joy and pain? Unashamed of the laughter and tears and the all out crazy that comes from being a mother?
God seems to reside in places like this, where joy and pain co-mingle, and I discover more of Him when I am willing to go into His heart by way of such pain. Somehow pain is the pathway to deeper joy.
On Saturday, when Ben crosses that stage and receives his diploma, I will cheer and I will sob. I will experience deep gratitude for this journey that leads me closer to the heart of God.
Who knew this brown bag moment of mothering would be a moment worth remembering? But I’ll take it. I’ll reach out and grab it firmly, tucking it deep inside my heart for safe keeping. So on those days when I am missing my boy and the pain wants to win, I will pull it out and remember. Like that brown bag, I will wrestle out that overloaded PBJ and experience the joy all over again.