The well-worn path of letting go

I recently enlisted my children to help organize our basement storage area, which houses everything from Christmas decorations and suitcases to sentimental items no one has the heart to part with.

After the initial protests, my kids - now 13 and 10 - exclaimed at the hidden treasures we unearthed: onesies worn home from the hospital, bedraggled stuffed cats and frogs, baby doll beds with homemade quilts and pink princess castles.

Sifting through the objects, my daughter, Grace, looked into my eyes and said, "This feels happy and sad at the same time," perfectly capturing my own emotions.

Truthfully it's these emotions that kept me from sorting through our storage. When I open the closet to our memories, waves of nostalgia threaten to overwhelm me as I confront the reality that my children have grown into adolescents.

There will be no more tea parties with stuffed animal guests or walks around the neighborhood with baby dolls securely strapped into their strollers. Toy cell phones no longer receive calls, and while my kids delighted for a moment at the truly embarrassing amount of stuffed animals we uncovered, none of these forgotten friends were tucked into bed with them that night.

Consequently, it's never been easier to purge unused items from our home as my kids no longer have the same attachment to their toys, and the same is true for their relationship with me.

"Thanks, Mom, I can do it myself," is a common refrain lately, and like the closets in my home, my days have a bit more margin. But while my children's need for me has changed, I'm mindful it hasn't diminished.

During these days of burgeoning independence, I hold onto advice from sociologist Dr. Christian Smith: teenagers send out two conflicting messages simultaneously. The first is, "Get away, get away, get away," and the second is, "Closer, closer, closer."

So I lean in where I can with hair parties with my daughter and movie nights with my son, bike rides and dog walks and listening to stories about their friends. I cheer for them at their games and concerts and celebrate the independent young adults they are becoming.

It's a bittersweet path that's been traversed for generations. As we move into the holy season of Advent this Sunday, I think of a Heavenly Father who many years ago released His own Son into a world that needed Him.

Was it hard to let Him go, the way I find it hard to let my children grow into who they're created to be? I can't help but think it was, which makes Christmas all the more a gift worth receiving, in humble appreciation for all that it cost.

- Jade Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].