After years of lugging both babies and bags down Terminal 5, the most amazing thing happened: all three of my children walked the long journey from the O’Hare airport security checkpoint to the gate. Yes, sister – on their own two feet.
We trekked, hand in hand, through terminals and past over-priced restaurants, passing hundreds of travelers waiting and hurrying, all stuck in no-man’s-land. Still weighed down by bags and protectively encircling my little ones, we walked through the crowd together; everyone moving on his or her own power. An amazing milestone. After a decade of baby carriers, I felt like a free woman at last.
Nearing our gate, we passed a young mom, sitting amongst her bags, breastfeeding a very newborn baby. Our eyes met, her and me. I looked down at her tiny baby, then over at my three small, independent hikers, then back at her. In that gaze, my heart took in the brief years represented between her brand new baby and my great big ones. I felt both awe and wonder at the miracle and the journey; where we were just a few blinks ago, where we are now. Amazement at how quickly so much changes, even when it seems like the sleepless nights will never end. In her eyes, I saw her mind following a similar progression – only, as my heart looked backward, hers looked forward. We smiled at each other, mom to mom, understanding the other perfectly. It was a sacred moment shared with a stranger. We knew nothing about each other except for the common bond of motherhood with all the twists and turns this journey entails.
Frequently, I look at my children and wonder, Where has the time gone? Have I missed it? I must have missed it. Facebook memories and old journals remind me of precious days I can’t quite recall. But I know that I didn’t miss those early years, not even one day. I have been present for every stage, for every unending minute, hour and day piling up to infinity around me. I have been there for it all.
When we first learn of our children – whether on a pregnancy test strip, an ultrasound screen or an adoption file – we launch into an ever-changing roller coaster ride. Every stage, each season, asks so much from us – exacts so much from us – then moves us forward without permission. We have no road map, no guarantees, no oracle or crystal ball to soothe us with promises about the future; we must simply move forward, step by step, day by day. This is a powerful exercise in surrender. First, surrendering to the gift, then to the change – going wherever this journey of motherhood takes us.
Through plugged ducts, teething rings, vaccinations and hospitalizations, learning to walk and learning to run, preschool drop-offs and kindergarten registrations, marriage valleys and financial troubles, late night phone calls and terrifying test results; the peaceful looks on my children’s faces when they finally go to sleep, and the feeling when their hands slip into mine – is love woven through it all. It is this love that gets us out of bed each morning to face whatever changing season we are confronted with next.
And like a roller coaster, it feels like it will never end. Then suddenly, it has.
That sacred moment in the airport passed. My children and I walked – on our own feet – past that new baby and his new mama. Hand in hand, we continued onto the airplane, up into the sky and toward whatever adventures meets us next.
I wonder, unbeknownst to us, if we passed a mother of adult children who looked at our little parade and marveled at how far she has traveled down this journey of motherhood as well.
(This article was originally published in The MOPS Magazine spring 2017 issue.)
Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day – while caring for three kids, two jobs and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on Facebook or at catherinemcniel.com.