Graduation came and went and all seemed to be well.
Elle and I both survived even with a lot of emotions swirling around.
I mean, I had sent my first off the year before and survived, and we were heading out to spend some serious time with Elle on a family trip in the next week so I figured the emotions might hold out a little bit.
...at least until we sent her off to begin her college life right after our trip.
And Elle? Elle was much more like me graduating all those years ago than Max was.
I still remember dreading that day when my friends and I would have to split up and spread out. I remember my own graduation night well...driving up the canyon with all my best friends after hanging out with big crowds all night. As we drove we watched the sun rise with "Forever Young" blasting through the radio.
We all had giant tears trickling down our cheeks.
It was the end of life as we knew it. (Little did I know all the grand adventures that lay ahead and that I would still be dear friends with all those great friends in the car with me twenty-six years later.)
I think Elle felt that same dread I did all those years ago as graduation approached.
She loved high school so much and tried with all her might to will that day not to ever arrive.
But graduation came and went, and I think we were both surprised that we were still standing (ha). She had stars in her eyes about her own graduation trip coming up in a couple days and I was trying to grapple getting ready for trek the next day and leaving for our family trip to Europe immediately following that.
But there were little things that started unraveling my sanity bit by bit.
Things like packing up Elle's room (since she wouldn't be coming back at all after Europe...straight to BYU- Provo summer school and then straight to BYU-Hawaii from there). We couldn't bring any of her stuff with us on our trip so we were packing early to send things up with my parents after graduation. (That whole deal is still a little crazy...time-frames with those two different BYUs have been pretty tricky this summer!)
Gradually emptying out her bedroom filled with so many memories constricted my heart a bit.
The tennis trophies and awards, her old film camera, the funny stuff she wore for spirit days, prom dresses, pictures and notes...all ready to be boxed and shelved away.
To gather dust.
My heart constricted even more walking into her room to see her graduation stuff laid out the day before graduation and school work all graded and returned.
There were last gatherings of friends.
What good influences they've been on Elle. How much they have built and loved her. And grown together.
It started pressing into my heart how much I would miss not only Elle, but them and the light and fun they have brought in and out of our home over the years.
The night after graduation Dave and I lay in bed and my unraveling went from a slow leak to a flood of emotion.
I started spilling out my heart to him.
And the more I spilled laying there in the dark, the more sad I realized I was as tears started filling my ears and plopping down on the pillow.
We talked for a while and I calmed down. Dave was so sad too, but fell asleep right as another wave of emotion hit me.
I went and curled up in my closet so I wouldn't wake him up because suddenly everything was shaking.
And the emotion erupting wasn't just Elle graduating. As I sat there now bawling in my closet, (it was a true "ugly cry" by this time with my face uncontrollably contorting so much it was almost painful), I became overwhelmed with how much I missed Max. How I wished I could give him a giant hug and how two years is so dang long. I marveled at how much had changed in ONE YEAR since he just barely graduated. What would be happening this time next year with Elle? How did Dave and I get so old? How was our life with small children passing right there before our eyes? How quickly would the time go before all of them are grown and gone? Before I know it I will be a crinkled up little grandma and the grand memories of the beauty of life as we know it right now will be only that: memories fading away.
Sitting there I missed holding them (all of them, even the little ones) as toddlers on my hip. Working out money and job systems with them. Building them. Memories of baby food smashed into high chair crevices, Cheerios crushed into the floor, tantrums and pushing and pulling and heaving to parent them in the way we felt they needed. All those years of teaching them... to read, to write, to pray, to look adults in the eye, to enjoy beauty, to seek God.
All those years of praying my guts out for them, worrying my heart out about their decisions, their goals, their dreams, their understanding of Christ, their futures.
All the richness and beauty and chaos of the last couple years and bits from all the years of motherhood was suddenly flitting in and out of my mind as I tried to grasp hold of it and hold on with all my might, "for babies grow up, I've learned to my sorrow."
Yes, yes, I know the whole deal about how grand it is to have older kids too, because those little babies of mine are morphing into them. And oh how I adore them.
(I promise to all those young mothers out there that having older kids is just as equally amazing as having those little toddlers wrapped around your legs, just different.)
But right then and there I missed those babies. I missed the "growing" and the good and the bad and the ugly all wrapped up together.
I missed the grand chaos filling up our house before it was even really gone.
My heart yearned to hold those two oldest children of mine close who have been best friends for years and who have been such an integral part of our household for so long...who have set such a great example for the youngest three. Who, in many ways, have set such a great example for me and Dave too.
I prayed, sitting there in my closet.
And as I did, peace gathered around me like a blanket and left me with so much gratitude for life.
My emotions settled and I knew it would all be ok as I finally drifted off to sleep.
I woke up the next day with the puffiest eyes of the century. I think my heart matched my eyes, all puffy and sore.
But somehow those puffy eyes could see so much more clearly. Sometimes a good cry is the perfect remedy. Oh how I have loved having these children teach me so much over the years.
Because as I already know from Max being gone, as much as it hurts to let them leave, it gets pretty amazing to watch them "become." I've probably said that ten-gazillion times, but I have to keep reminding myself when the gnawing missing comes along.
I don't think that part will ever leave.
But feeling it, and the unraveling and re-building that comes along with it makes me feel alive.
The pain of love is just as real as the joy of it all.
And I'm so grateful these children I adore so much make me feel it all.