The older my kids get, the more invisible I feel. With two high schoolers and a 5th grader, my days of diapers, naps and preschool are well behind me. Generally speaking, this season is welcome after years of little kid crazy. However, when surrounded by my younger counterparts, the fact that I’m further along in motherhood leaves a slight sting. You see, other moms simply don’t ask about my older children. In conversations about family life or activities, my 17 and 15 year old are glossed over and dismissed. Truth be told, many of them are so busy looking down at the little ones circling their skirts that they just can’t break away to look up and ahead.
The irony is that I am where they are going. While it seems far and unreachable now, they are right around the corner from being me. In the blink of an eye, their 8 year olds will be considering colleges and their preschoolers will be wrestling with relationships and heartbreak.
The Bible tells the beautiful story of Naomi and Ruth. After losing her husband and two sons, Naomi journeyed with her two young daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth, in an attempt to find a new life. But as she walked, flanked by women half her age, did she feel known? Did she feel seen? Or did she feel obsolete and irrelevant? Did she, perhaps, feel invisible?
Eventually, with Naomi’s prodding, Orpah would leave to pursue a life of her own. This was not the case with Ruth.
“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’”
Ruth 1: 16-17
As a younger woman, I always related much more to Ruth. Although certainly heartbroken and grieving, she was still young and had possibility and opportunity before her. Her life was largely unwritten and every experience offered fresh, new ink to add to her story. Lately, however, I am drawn to Naomi. There’s a good chance she was just about my age and wrestling with some of the same feelings I am.
Furthermore, after years of believing that Naomi was the lucky one for having a daughter-in-law so generous and loyal, my opinion has flipped. I now see that Ruth had the better end of the deal. On a pilgrimage to a new life, she had an unmatched opportunity to walk hand in hand with wisdom and experience. Naomi was an ocean of insight and a treasure chest of truth. She knew love and loss intimately and had decades of perspective. She had weathered the ups and downs of marriage and persevered through the ins and outs of child rearing. I imagine that over the miles, Ruth was an eager audience and I envision her listening intently, hanging on every word uttered by her mother-in-law.
I wish I had listened better. You see, now that I am a Naomi, I wish I had been a far better Ruth. I wish I had stopped when older moms came in the room and valued them for what they could offer. I wish I had recognized all the knowledge, discernment and understanding they held. But I missed it. Day after day, like many of the moms currently around me, I rarely bothered to look up at them. I didn’t ask and I didn’t listen.
So I’d like to say I’m sorry to the moms of older kids. To the women who didn’t sleep as they wore the fears and worries of their middle schoolers like a heavy woolen coat. To the ones who fought with unreserved ferocity to maintain their teenagers’ dignity and reputation. To the mothers who wept as their sons and daughters left for college. You had so much to teach me and I am certain that, had I paid attention years ago, I may have avoided some heartache.
But I want you to know that I see you now and I long for what you can give. I understand that because you had bigger kids, you had bigger other things too.
For one thing, your worry and fear were bigger. As my kids get older, I hold my breath over such larger problems. Fitting into the crowd. Not fitting into the crowd. Saying yes to the right things. Saying no to the wrong things. Letting them find their own path. Watching over that very path and hoping they don’t fall too hard. Being ready to catch them when they do. Holding them accountable. Not burdening them with unrealistic expectations. Giving them wings. Praying they use those wings wisely. As my children grow, so do the enemies. The pitfalls are deeper and the consequences more damaging. Wrong decisions aren’t fixed by time outs anymore. The stakes are higher and therefore, so is the potential for fear and worry.
Your loyalty was bigger. Being a mom of a teenager means carrying weapons I never thought I needed. It is being ready to defend and protect at a moment’s notice. After all, who better than us knows our children’s history? We know every weak point, every stress fracture, every vulnerability. When we see a threat, we rush in and refuse to leave. We fight the good fights and the ugly ones too. We remain steadfast in the darkness, holding a torch until the light of day no matter how long that takes.
Your love was bigger. As a young mom, I remember thinking that there was no possible way that you loved your pimply-faced, awkward, rebellious, back-talking teenager as much as I loved my adorable Facebook-worthy toddler. And I was right. You didn’t love them as much; you loved them more. Because every battle you fought for them, against them or with them deepened your love for them. Every heartbreak strengthened the tether between your hearts. Every success swelled your love and every disappointment cemented it. Each year that passed delivered thousands of new moments that you carefully collected and stockpiled into a virtual mountain of dedication and love. And you never stopped collecting. Not when they got on the middle school bus. Not when they drove away in your car. Not when they left for college. Not when they married. Not when they started a family of their own. You kept collecting and building.
One day I will know that kind of love. I’m getting there for sure but it takes a lifetime. A lifetime I haven’t lived yet. In the meantime, can I be your Ruth? Can I follow alongside and glean all you know? Because I want to know. I want to gather the wisdom you have and tuck it away for a time I will most certainly need it.
And I want to remind you that I see you and that you are not invisible. You are beautiful in your tireless commitment to your children. Everything about you is simply stunning. Your laugh lines point to years of joint delight. Your tear stains are testament to decades of shared grief. The softness in your voice when you talk about your children betrays a loyalty beyond circumstance. No, sweet mothers, you are not invisible at all. You are radiant and I only hope someday someone will say the same about me.