17-Year Parent

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heaven:

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to plant and a time to uproot,

Ecclesiastes 3:1&2


The note in my bible regarding meaning behind these verses, which starts a long list of polar events we end up accepting, liking or not, says, “Humans have no control over times and changes.”  I wonder what theologian felt the need to twist that knife?  My oldest son is 16 and my youngest will turn 13 this week.  In five years we are an empty-nest and it’s starting to enter my dreams.  It began as soft, gentle anxiety about a looming future where my best friends chose to move on.  Then it gets closer, time slips even faster, and I begin to see the sad end of what’s been a marvelous run.  Quite honestly it freaks me out.  I’ve worked so hard to develop independent, intelligent children, and my reward for a job well done is they become intelligent and independent!  What?!


The last week has been a whirlwind of students and parents all ascending upon the campus like the dawn of the 17-year cicada.  We know they are coming, we start to hear the buzz, and then one day a large eyed frozen figure is stuck to my office door.  What is it we ask, a cicada? Or a student…nope, it’s a parent.” They peel themselves off and put on a happy face with the first handshake.  But soon I start to hear the stories.  Full of good intentions and desires to help this poor drooling child get established; they are willing to do anything.  They fly across the country, many times over.  They drive ungodly miles and write ungodly checks, the whole time supporting their worst nightmare, with a tear in their eye.  Then they look across my desk and say, “You…you understand.”  I want to start weeping openly, wailing like a Peanuts cartoon mouth in a perfect circle, wide and facing the heavens. 


I’m no theologian, but I wonder if when translated from the Greek, verse two shouldn’t actually read, a time to uproot and a time to plant.  Sure, knowing that I have no control over time, and change will take place no matter my kicking and crying doesn’t exactly make me feel great.  However, change for no reason, other then change, makes no sense.  Why relent and move your child to this big scary place if only for the change.  Let’s face it: we want growth because of the change.  We want progress; good, positive, forward movement.  The horticulturist in me wants this bible verse flipped around.  Because I know about seasons and what planting a seed is like.  It first sprouts tender cotyledons; soon true leaves begin to grow.  We water and fuss over the babies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  They grow; they become stronger and need less attention.  Soon they are pot-bound and our friendly little environment is too suffocating.  It’s time to plant them out into the real world.  But before we do that we strip them from their pots, pulling apart the roots, ripping and tearing along the way.  Then, and only then, are they ready for a proper planting. This is where they will grow, prosper, and make fruits of their own. 

They must be uprooted before we plant them.  They can’t stay in the sheltered greenhouse forever. Damage to those tender roots is critical in being able to continue a healthy new life in a new world.  However, I’ve never seen one of our students, who painstakingly raised these baby plants, standing in my greenhouse looking like Sally Brown, mouth open to the sky.  Why do my 17-year big-eyed frozen parents?  And why, when I myself am comfortable with the seasons, see myself doing the same?