Hello, Goodbye

 

Today, my oldest son came home after serving a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Oklahoma City area. To say I can’t adequately express my happiness at his return would be an understatement.

While mission service isn’t required of Mormons and I have many active member friends who never served, it is a prevalent part of our culture. In the case of my family, mission service is in our blood — my dad served in Argentina as a young man, my parents served together in New Jersey after retirement, and my three brothers and two sisters served in Mississippi, Australia, Mexico, New York, and Chile. My husband served in Brazil and I served in Washington DC, giving tours in Spanish at the temple visitors’ center as part of my assignment. (You could still see remnants of “Surrender Dorothy!” painted on the bridge over the Beltway back then.)

Still, nothing prepared me entirely for sending off my own child for two years with no contact except a weekly email and two phone calls a year, or the sadness of feeling him gradually seep out of my life after 18 years of motherly micromanagement.

Yet this needy child, like the proverbial bird pushed out of the nest, didn’t crash to the ground—he flew. The same boy who couldn’t remember to turn in homework if he actually remembered to do it in the first place proved 100 percent capable of planning and budgeting his day-to-day, week-to-week life. He got by just fine without me reminding him to brush his teeth every morning or pointing out that he had his shirt on backwards. (Collared shirts and ties probably made that easier, though he did manage to go several hours in grade school wearing a polo shirt backwards.) He was able to feed himself and get his haircut with no input from me. After a few months of absence, I began to suspect that perhaps I was the needy one in this relationship.

To compound my emotional state this month, I’m also preparing to send off my second son to serve in Tijuana, Mexico. On August 29, we’ll put him on a plane to the Mexico City missionary training center with his luggage, a list of emergency phone numbers, and four (nearly useless) years of high school Spanish.

Will he also soar? As a toddler, he was cranky and obstinate, and when I compared him to his kind-hearted, happy-go-lucky older brother, I worried he would grow into a wild or difficult teen. But from the time he came screaming into the world until now, he has been driven to succeed. His obstinate one-track-mindedness has led to eventually passing five A.P. tests, becoming a talented artist and pianist, learning to sing even though he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and teaching himself how to 3D animate via YouTube tutorials and free online software.

But he still can’t give a proper hug despite plenty of coaching. He’s a tiny bit robotic and not given to emotional displays beyond cracking the occasional smile when he deems that, yes, you are soooo hilarious. It’s this nature that makes me less worried for his physical safety than his emotional well-being. Will he struggle to love with his whole heart and to forgive the inevitable rejections and conflicts he’ll face? Or will he surprise me like his brother did by growing beyond what I can foresee? Maybe—hopefully—he will do both.

In any case, these two brothers, who have always been each other’s best friends, teachers, and partners in crime, now have less than two weeks until they are separated again. We have plans to make the most of it—theme parks, family dinners, neighborhood activities. Through it all, I will keep reminding myself that we are a family of missionaries. And this latest generation is going to be just fine.

P.S. Earlier this summer, I posted this 3D animation that my second son Nathan made for the UDMAF contest. He had originally planned to finish another project before he left for Mexico, but circumstances did not permit—family vacation to Florida, Scout trip to Havasupai, youth conference to Snow College, and a summer job helping paint walls, service AC units, and repair playground equipment at charter schools across the valley. He did, however, start brain-storming with the family and made several sketches in preparation for a new animation that centers around an astronaut exploring an asteroid field. How do you think this one might end?

There are 21 comments.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    What a beautiful, inspiring and welcoming post! I honor your sons for their service in a fine cause, and thanks for letting us see such an eloquent expression of a mother’s pride.

    • #1
  2. Allan Rutter Member
    Allan Rutter
    @AllanRutter

    Good for you for learning to let go. Missionary service is a wonderfully powerful way to grow young people into adults.  They learn self-sufficiency, they bounce back from repeated failures, they learn to solve problems. They will come back for school more mature, more organized and more confident. Good luck to your youngest, and to you in lettting go again. Their success reflects your sound parenting, too!

    • #2
  3. Weeping Inactive
    Weeping
    @Weeping

    From one mama to another:

    So glad to hear your older son not only made it back safely but thrived while he was gone. It’s a bittersweet thing to see them grow and mature. (Well, it is for me anyway.)

    As for your younger son, may God bless him and protect him during his upcoming service. And may He hold you extra close during that time and fill you with the peace that only He can give.

    • #3
  4. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    What a beautiful, inspiring and welcoming post! I honor your sons for their service in a fine cause, and thanks for letting us see such an eloquent expression of a mother’s pride.

    What Gary said.

    • #4
  5. ltpwfdcm Coolidge
    ltpwfdcm
    @ltpwfdcm

    What a great post Merrijane, my mission to California (rough, I know) involved some of the hardest times in my life, but also helped me in ways not possible had I not served. Truly a forging experience for me. There’s not a day that goes by that I see some impact of my missionary service on my life, even approaching 20 years since I left. Best of luck to Nathan as he goes!

    • #5
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    What an incredible commitment your family has made! And I remember the animation–it was so awesome! Both boys/young men will be fine, with the foundation you’ve given them. And I wish Nathan the best.

    • #6
  7. Quinnie Member
    Quinnie
    @Quinnie

    170815-facebook-miner-cow-horizontal.jpg

    I had shared with my military sons, daughter,  and my wife the wonderful recent story/picture of the Iowa teen and his prized cow under my e-mail heading “I still have faith in the USA”.   Then I saw your family story and I immediately thought again; “I still have faith in the USA”.   Thanks for sharing and God Bless.

    • #7
  8. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Merrijane: (You could still see remnants of “Surrender Dorothy!” painted on the bridge over the Beltway back then.)

    I remember that. I was on a business trip to Washington (actually Rockville) back in the 1980s. We were driving down the Beltway, reached the bridge, saw the temple beyond it and I and the driver started laughing so hard we almost got in an accident. (He was a member of the Latter Day Saints, too. But it was funny.)

    Seawriter

    • #8
  9. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    Quinnie (View Comment):
    170815-facebook-miner-cow-horizontal.jpg

    I had shared with my military sons, daughter, and my wife the wonderful recent story/picture of the Iowa teen and his prized cow under my e-mail heading “I still have faith in the USA”. Then I saw your family story and I immediately thought again; “I still have faith in the USA”. Thanks for sharing and God Bless.

    I love that picture!

    • #9
  10. Higgs Boson Inactive
    Higgs Boson
    @HiggsBoson

    What a beautiful post! Thanks. I live in Salt Lake City but I am not LDS.  I’m frequently in awe at the dedication of the young people headed off on missions and the families who support them.

    • #10
  11. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    I’ve sent three of mine off to missions around the world. It was pretty terrifying, as a mother. It’s really a “trust in God” situation. Congratulations on your family growing up and not needing you anymore! Isn’t that the irony of parenthood, though? It makes you really have a new appreciation for that Father in heaven who sends us all down here to earth, and then has to stand by hoping we’ll remember Him and what His most important teachings are, so we can have successful lives.

    • #11
  12. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Congratulations on your family growing up and not needing you anymore! Isn’t that the irony of parenthood, though?

    What’s the irony in that? When my three were growing up I told them I have not succeeded as a parent if they love me so much they are still living at home when they are in their thirties. I told them I have succeeded when they are living on their own, have started careers and have their own families.

    My sister-in-law? She wanted her kids dependent on her. Three of their four are still living at home or drifting through life.

    Seawriter

    • #12
  13. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    What a great family.  Congratulations and best wishes.

    • #13
  14. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    This is such a beautiful sentiment of a whole family, not without struggles or challenges, but grounded in faith and love for each other – so many struggle today without even that much – a solid foundation means everything. You should be so proud. In our tiny neighborhood, we have two families whose kids have/are in missionary work around the world, and another neighbor who serves on a regular basis building day care centers, apartments, and emotional bridges for the poorest among us.  God bless your family and good luck to both your kids!

    • #14
  15. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Congratulations on your family growing up and not needing you anymore! Isn’t that the irony of parenthood, though?

    What’s the irony in that? When my three were growing up I told them I have not succeeded as a parent if they love me so much they are still living at home when they are in their thirties. I told them I have succeeded when they are living on their own, have started careers and have their own families.

    My sister-in-law? She wanted her kids dependent on her. Three of their four are still living at home or drifting through life.

    Seawriter

    That seems to be the trend these days but there’s always hope……

    • #15
  16. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    My sister-in-law? She wanted her kids dependent on her. Three of their four are still living at home or drifting through life.

    Seawriter

    That seems to be the trend these days but there’s always hope……

    She got what she wanted. Right?

    Seawriter

    • #16
  17. George Townsend Inactive
    George Townsend
    @GeorgeTownsend

    Higgs Boson (View Comment):
    What a beautiful post! Thanks. I live in Salt Lake City but I am not LDS. I’m frequently in awe at the dedication of the young people headed off on missions and the families who support them.

    I just wanted to echo this. I also am not LDS. And I think we all need to learn to admire and lift-up those people who volunteer to help others. We sometimes cannot understand the ways of others, or the why of what they do, but we MUST admire and hale them for the magnificent human beings they are!

    • #17
  18. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Yes, much to learn and respect. Her kids will appreciate our country and the spirit of sacrifice. Compare them to the ungrateful brats the secular world is producing.

    • #18
  19. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    Congratulations on your family growing up and not needing you anymore! Isn’t that the irony of parenthood, though?

    What’s the irony in that? When my three were growing up I told them I have not succeeded as a parent if they love me so much they are still living at home when they are in their thirties. I told them I have succeeded when they are living on their own, have started careers and have their own families.

    My sister-in-law? She wanted her kids dependent on her. Three of their four are still living at home or drifting through life.

    Seawriter

    Maybe irony isn’t the best descriptor. I totally wanted my children to be independent, capable, and self-sufficient. And, they’ve all succeeded at doing just that. I guess what I meant was that when you have children, your heart is now partially implanted in another person. They probably don’t realize it until they, too, have children of their own. I loved them as children and I love them as adults. I’m very proud of them. And yet…I have very fond memories of those years when we all were a cozy unit in our home with mom and dad and the littles.

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    I guess what I meant was that when you have children, your heart is now partially implanted in another person. They probably don’t realize it until they, too, have children of their own. I loved them as children and I love them as adults. I’m very proud of them. And yet…I have very fond memories of those years when we all were a cozy unit in our home with mom and dad and the littles.

    I think it is a mom thing versus a dad thing. My three are now all adults. I have fond memories of them, but would not want them back home with me because it would mean they are settling for less than what they could be.

    At the same time, my sons and I have collaborated on projects. One example: my middle son is into photography and he and I worked together on several books. He did the photography for books I wrote. He did the cover photo for this one. Yes, stuff like doing Scouts and building models together when they were kids was fun. But collaborating on a project as adults? Where each of us is contributing something critical but different? There is nothing as fun or as satisfying.

    Seawriter

    • #20
  21. iWe Coolidge
    iWe
    @iWe

    It is hard to push the young out of the nest. But it needs to be done.

    • #21

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