Lights and Tunnels

Last weekend our youngest daughter walked across the college graduation stage, and my husband and I stepped into the light at the end of a long tunnel.

For over a quarter of a century, we have paid tuition, packed lunches, signed permission slips, coordinated moves, hosted sleepovers, matched socks, and navigated relationship dramas for our three daughters. Beyond “chief cook and bottle washer,” we have served as tutors, policemen, movers, and shoppers. None of these were in the job description that came with our first baby.

Now we are done. Or at least it feels that way. The child-rearing tunnel with all its twists, turns and dark spots is over, and we’re basking in the sunlight.

And yet.

Our youngest daughter’s college graduation coincides with our oldest daughter’s pregnancy. It seems we are now entering a new and even more unfamiliar tunnel: that of grandparents. It was not lost on me at last weekend’s commencement that 18 years from now we’ll be attending a high school graduation. Circle of life.

When I was a child, the route to my grandfather’s house included passing through a tunnel. Signs posted at the entrance warned cars against honking in the tunnel because of cracks caused by noise vibration. My older brothers (who evidently thought their raison d’être was to terrify me at every turn) convinced me that the tunnel might collapse at any moment. There I was, sandwiched in between my teenaged brothers on the back seat, squeezing my eyes shut and praying that we would make it through safely.

This was actually good preparation for motherhood. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. And lots of prayers that we would make it through.

There is no way I can adequately prepare my daughter Anna for the phases of motherhood: how you pass through so many developmental tunnels—each time wondering where the light is: just around the bend perhaps? Diapers, walking, ear infections, learning to read, studying, broken bones, first dates, braces, blemishes, proms, SATs, college majors, first jobs. Each of momentary, earth-shattering importance, and carrying with it a smattering of tears. Each leg of the motherhood journey is punctuated by a straight sunny road before the next tunnel.

A former colleague spoke of her children not in biological ages but in stages of motherhood: “I have two kids: one in a booster car seat and one in a high chair.”

Just like when I became a mother, I have no idea what to expect as a grandmother. Now with three grown, fully employed (!) children, I am entering into a wide open tunnel that’s exhilarating with the freedom it represents. It is also frightening, as I’m not sure what’s on the other side. I can’t imagine the chambers of my heart can expand any more—even though I know from experience they will. They did three times, after all.

The irony of writing this blog on Mother’s Day is not lost on me, but the fact is that there are millions of women who have never given birth but who are still mothers—to their relatives, their parents, their friends, their colleagues, their animals— and I’m writing to them too. It is simply baked in to the DNA of us as women to nurture. In our female lifetimes are a million tunnels—some dark, some short. Some that seem never-ending and some that make us turn back and smile when we emerge on the other side. Our multiple personas—mother, child, sister, employee, boss, friend—mean navigating the complex tunnels of life, of what life demands of us. And it is incumbent on us to have faith that there’s a light at the end of each tunnel.

Even if we can’t yet see it.

Just as I’m resting on my laurels, thinking that my mothering is done, I get a call from one of my daughters. And then another. And a third. It seems our roles as mothers are never done. And I have to say that engaging with a child on an adult level— calling her your friend— is undoubtedly the brightest light in which you can ever stand.

As excited as I am for this next phase of life and motherhood, it’s a little scary as well. Change always is. But when I find myself worrying about the unknown, I think about my father, turning around to me as our car emerged from the tunnel into blinding sunlight.

“See there! We made it through!”

Indeed. And the view from the other side is breathtaking.

2 thoughts on “Lights and Tunnels

  1. True, parenting is lifelong. And the sunlight makes everything worthwhile.

    Congratulations to Anna and to your daughter who begins the parenting journey.


  2. All the tunnels and everything in between, it all happens in a flash. Time won’t slow down so we have to be deliberate to take in every moment. Thanks for the reminder.


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