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Speaking the Truth

By Michelle Lehnardt

My oldest son turns 17 tomorrow—yes, on Valentine’s Day—and already my heart is aching at how soon he will be gone. Just yesterday he was running home from school, blonde bowl-cut hair flying, snow boots carrying muddy puddles into the kitchen and skidding to a stop to wrap his arms around my waist. “I missed you Mom!”

And as my first grader, my fifth son, repeats the same ritual today, wearing the same red coat and a very similar cherubic face, you can imagine how my mind skips and stutters and puzzles where the years have gone.

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I certainly can’t say I wasn’t warned. If there is one sentiment that experienced mothers like to share with newbies it’s this: “Enjoy your children. They grow up so quickly.” Those words seemed almost cruel when my life was diapers and illness and sleepless nights, but now that my son has just two years—two short years!- before he leaves on his mission I can vouch for their verity.

But there are so many other things I was never told: nursing a baby is incredibly painful, the 6 months between walking and nursery age is a true test of faith and potty training can completely destroy your self esteem.

The generation of mothers and parenting books before me weren’t as open about the crazy chaos of childrearing and I had to carve out a network of peers who would speak the truth. And as my friends have started sending out their sons to distant(or not –so-distant) lands they’ve warned me:

“Just when he becomes a compassionate, civilized human being he’ll leave you.”

“How long has he been gone? The calendar might say three months but it’s been a million billion years.”

And Kristen who welcomed home one son just to send off another the next week, “It’s almost impossible to be happy at this farewell when I know how incredibly long two years lasts, how desperately I am going to miss him.”

Dalene Rowley considers speaking the truth one of her life missions and in “Reluctant Sower” she eloquently describes the last weeks before her son’s mission and her grief at his departure. I’ve read the piece a half-dozen times and still can’t get through without tears spattering the page. Yes, yes, she’s grateful that he’s worthy, faithful and serving with honor—but her heart aches when passing his empty chair.

Two of my son’s friends received mission calls this week—Bangkok, Thailand and Argentina. When they come home, my boy will be leaving. There’s a good chance they’ll speak in the same sacrament meeting. I feel the urgency of time ticking by. How will we take those trips we dreamt of? What more should I be teaching him? When he mentioned working as a river guide this summer and then starting college immediately after graduation next year I let out a scream of pain—“No! I get one more summer with you. One more.”

Dalene warns that the two years of missionary work are the only years that DON’T fly by for a mother. Perhaps, I could step into a missionary mom’s timeline because I need to

pause,

savor

and lengthen my time with my boy.

Please take a few minutes and a box of tissues to read “Reluctant Sower” and then tell me…

What aspects of parenting were you never told about?

Do you think the current generation of mothers is more willing to share her hurts and mistakes than the previous ones?

Mothers who have sent out missionaries—what advice, experiences can you share with us?

Missionaries—don’t comment here. Go write to you mother!

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

26 thoughts on “Speaking the Truth”

  1. My brother and I left on our missions on the exact same day. My mom says she felt like the airplanes were giant monsters eating her children. She also said that "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" was her missionary lullaby. The image of monsters eating your children probably isn't a good one, but she also said she was glad the monsters gave us back when our time was over.

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  2. I can feel my heart breaking a little bit when I read this. From my vantage point (admittedly across the country) you are raising some great sons, Michelle. I wouldn't want to see them go, either. {On the other hand, if we can arrange for them to come to Boston or NH on missions I will definitely take them under my wings. Just saying.}

    We have been mindful of the rush of time lately, too. My oldest is a little younger than yours but I do catch myself saying "only two more summers…" and realizing all the things we haven't yet done that I always thought we would. It does make the remaining time feel sweeter, more precious. But tinged with melancholy.

    It also makes me realize how oblivious I was as a daughter leaving the nest, all cheerful "bye"s and excited plans without much thought for my family. They, after all, were staying right there and would be there when and if I needed them.

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  3. I don't think I've told Dalene this (why?), but I printed this essay off a while back and put it in my drawer right here next to me…I'll be there pretty soon. It makes my heart swell and sink.

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  4. I loved Dalene's piece as a mother of 3 little boys I already feel that sadness with each seasons turn that life will get harder, more complex, and there will be more letting go. I am not ready for those seperations. (still 11 years off at) I loved this glimpse into my future years.

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  5. The part of motherhood no one told me about? Potty training! It has been the hardest part so far and I have a 14 year old girl.

    One day when my son is 19 I don't know how I'll have the strength to tell him to go on a mission instead of begging him to stay home, Dalene's writing thoroughly convinced me of this fact.

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  6. What a coincidence – my youngest son also turns 17 on Valentine's Day! So I'm at the other end of my family, but as far as the missionary thing goes I have a different perspective. My two older boys have rejected the gospel and did not serve missions – or even ever bless the sacrament, so I will be thrilled when my youngest serves a mission. I know I will miss him terribly, but it will truly be bitter and SWEET for me when he goes!

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  7. My son passed the sacrament for the first time last week. I was so proud of him, but it's never hit me that hard how he is growing so quickly. Five minutes ago it seemed like he was three and obsessed with vacuums. In another five minutes he'll be leaving on a mission.

    But I still have a two year old at home that needs to be potty-trained. I just keep reminding myself of that.

    Breastfeeding has been the worst experience of motherhood for me. Potty-training is pretty wretched too, though.

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  8. I am still very much in the youth of parenthood, with my four, five and under. I am often drowning in the weight of demand for physical stamina and god-like patience. But I cling to words such as your's, Dalene's, Pres. Monson's, and my parent's, who remind me that these moments will slip through my fingers and break my heart. Such counsel often reminds me to slow down, repent, and open my heart wider.

    To answer one of your questions, I was never told how incredibly important parenthood would be to my development. The constant blows that, for moments, swallow me up, somehow create a greater depth of mercy, and I am so grateful for this pain(I'll let you know if I can still say this in the years to come).

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  9. Thanks for your comments. Isn't it funny how quickly we go from "When will this child sleep through the night?" to "It all flies by too fast!"

    Happy Birthday to your son, Janet! It really is a delicious birthday, isn't it? I appreciate your perspective about your sons— motherhood is so bitter and SWEET.

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  10. I think it's a normal thing for young people not to realize the hidden sorrows of their parents. Only when we become parent's do we realize, "wow, I really ripped my mother's heart out when I did x and y."

    And it's definitely a more open parenting experience than our parent's had. Even since I started having children, the world of parenting has changed. It's a relief to me. Although, I could've used more of it when I had tiny kids.

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  11. I did rip my mother's heart out, and to this day it is one of my biggest regrets. My mom wanted to accompany me to the MTC, but she could only get two days' off of work. I wanted more time in Utah to visit all my friends to say good-bye. The choice was 1) have my mom fly up with me, but not get to see much of my friends or 2) have my mom say goodbye to me at the airport in Arizona and miss the MTC, but get to see all my friends and have my friends take me to the MTC. Guess which one I chose? Yeah. I can only imagine the tears my mother must have cried. She never said a word to me about it, though.

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  12. I know you said not to comment but to write to our mothers, but I just couldn't help myself.

    Here are some things that have been crucial in my development as an adult.

    1. The love God and Christ has for me individually, as expressed through an infinite atonement performed on behalf of all mankind.
    2. My parents love for me has changed my life. I got embarrassed but I still loved it when my parents told it to me. And, to be honest, I would have still loved it if my mom had tucked me in at night. I remember the first night she didn't, I was a little sad.
    3. I have come to see that God knows me better than I know myself. When I got called to Thailand, I felt so inadequate. But I know that through God, I can do anything, including learning Thai.
    4. The simple truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as presented in 3rd Nephi 27 by Christ Himself is the Gospel.

    I am scared, but not as scared as my parents. I can sense your sense of fear, as my mom freaked out when she heard it was Thailand. But take comfort in the fact that you have raised an excellent son who will be a marvelous missionary. It is a hard time of life, but God will not leave you comfortless.

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  13. Reading this made me wish my children never go on missions! (Is that bad?) Maybe I'll just have girls who decide not to go . . .

    No one every told me how difficult breastfeeding is! And no one told me how difficult it is when your baby starts to crawl. But everyone did tell me how quickly they grow up, and there's no way you can understand what that means until it happens. My baby is only 10 months and already I look at her and say "where did my tiny baby go?!"

    When I was pregnant, I was telling my mom how I couldn't wait to have the baby because then I could stop being scared of something going wrong with the pregnancy. She told me, "oh this is only the beginning. the worry only gets worse." I was mortified! But at least I started to prepare myself for a lifetime of worry.

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  14. It is so much more open now, isn't it Justine? The blogging world is full of young honest mothers(but we need a few more in our age group!).

    Eljee- your experience reminds me of when I forgot to say goodnight to my dad after my wedding reception. I wasn't going on a honeymoon, just back to our apt. and back to BYU on Monday but it was a right a passage and my dad was deeply hurt. But no one gave me the cues of what I SHOULD do– Dalene's honesty opened up great communication with her son and he eased their goodbye in many lovely ways…

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  15. and Jacob! I'm so glad you checked in here! Congrats on your mission call! I'll be sure not to tell your mom that "the time is just flying by."

    And Courtney, you will want them to go. You will. As Janet said, it's bitter, but it's more SWEET.

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  16. Repetition. That is something I wasn't prepared for regarding parenting (like how many times do you have to say hang up your coat — that kind of repetition).

    I also had never been told how hard that first few weeks after birth can be…the recovery (my first was awful), the PAIN of breastfeeding (HELLO? THAT is when I used my Lamaze breathing techniques…once I got past that, though, I LOVED breastfeeding).

    Potty training for me wasn't so bad because I spread it out over a year or two for each child. (No kidding, but with three children in three years, I didn't have it in me to do anything different.)

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  17. When your son leaves–he will never be yours again, so be prepared. He leaves a boy and comes home a man, a man who loves you but no longer needs you to take care of him. Soon he'll have a wife that will do all that you did. But despite the loss, you'll have joy because of who he has grown up to be, and that someone else loves him as much as you do.

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  18. The title of this piece (Speaking the Truth)is particularly compelling because one person's truth is not often, or even necessarily another person's truth. However, Michelle, your truth, as personal as it is, is one of those universal truths for mothers.

    At times, the way we talk about our children leaving the nest can sound quite cliche, but today you have given some real words to a very real part of being a parent. But as I read your words, I couldn't help feeling the transcendence to me as a daughter who once left my parent's loving nest.

    Perhaps I can no longer consider myself a young mother, but I do have young children. One tip for watching the days spin by is this(and I even used it this morning with my 5-year old baby, Willa):

    When I am with my girls and I want to remember the moment or feeling of a special time, I literally cast my eyes toward heaven and I say these words aloud: PLEASE HELP ME REMEMBER THIS MOMENT. And so far, I have a shimmering list of all of the moments I have asked to remember recorded in my heart. This is one of the ways the Lord answers my very verbal and loud prayer to be an ever-present mother to HIS children.

    And this poem is always a good reminder: Every mother deserves a gift on her child's birthday for the labor and tears of giving birth. For you…ENJOY!

    Going
    Patricia Fargnoli

    The children walk off
    into crowds of strangers
    their laces tied
    their backs straight.
    They wave to you
    from platforms you cannot reach.
    You want to hang on.
    Running after them,
    you thrust out small packages:
    vitamins, a new blouse, guilt.
    But they keep discarding
    Your dreams for their own.
    They carry admonitions
    in their pockets
    and their children will sing
    your lullabies,
    so that, finally, knowing this,
    you let go.
    They blur, fade.
    You settle back.
    The years pass, silent as clouds.
    Sundays they come for dinner,
    serve up slices of their lives,
    but it’s not the same.
    Sometimes, in a crowd,
    you will catch a glimpse
    of long braids,
    a ribbon streaming,
    and you will remember—-
    a head beneath your hand,
    a quilt tucked in,
    small things snapping on a line.

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  19. Having sent two boys on missions there is no way to prepare for the broken heart one feels as they are swallowed up for two years. My two oldest boys were gone at the same time and I felt as though my family had been torn apart. And yet, the exquisite joy of watching them grow, living for their letters – pictures – phone calls was more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.

    Harder than returning to the Lord His son for two years, was becoming a mother-in-law and realizing that there is now another woman who is the central focus in my sons life. When they leave as boys they truly do come home men and they are never yours again.

    I had been warned to enjoy their growing up years. Sadly I don't think I truly understood the importance of that advice until I retrospectively examine my roll as a mother. I look forward to sending my last two boys. . . but I will cherish their remaining years under my wing.

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  20. Leslie- I love your method of remembering the "shimmering moments"– I have often made the same prayer. And thank you for the poem– it's so lovely.

    Kaye and Lisa– your words took my breath away. Thank you, thank you for contributing to the conversation.

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  21. Lately I've been thinking alot about how Heavenly Father is our literal Father. He sent us to earth to gain a body, and then return to His loving arms. How many don't make it back? I'm sure as we came to earth He thought some of the same feelings we have as our own children leave the nest. It is heart wrenching for me to think about.

    My children are trying to flex their wings and fly. Two in college, and a high schooler. I am so proud of them, and the choices they are making now. I am terrified of the future though – did I teach them enough? do they know what to do in an emergency? can they feed and care for themselves? are they happy? are they safe? – argh! the list is so long…and there is a big, bad world out there. I worry, and then I worry again. And then I think of how much our Heavenly Father must worry about all of us. It is odd, but that gives me strength. To think that He feels the same about my children as I do. It is overwhelming to me.

    I have to agree that potty training is probably the worst part of childhood, but then you reach tween and teenage years, and realize that it was really a piece of cake – comparitively(sp?)

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  22. Beautiful Michelle! I think I'd better wait to read what your friend wrote. I'm emotional just thinking about sending my boys off. Two thoughts…

    Someone once said that their mission was not the two best years of their life, but "the two best years FOR their life."

    How can I not give that to my sons? Even though my heart breaks already. Ten years early.

    And my mom (who sent four sons on missions) said that sending a child on a mission is a lot like labor. It hurts more than you ever thought possible, but the result is worth every moment of pain.

    Please remind me of that in ten years. And again in fifteen. And then eighteen.

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  23. Having sent off three, I can say it's not as hard as you think it will be.

    Sure you wish you could be a fly on the wall and be connected with them on their mission adventure. Sure you anticipate each week's letter or email and love to hear from them. And certainly you miss them. But it feels right. And it feels like it's time. And because you, for years, have loved watching your sons and daughters tackle and handle good, growing, challenges that make them better people, you will love watching them tackle this one.

    I do recommend sending them off to college for a year first. It eases the transition from in-home teenager to young adult for them and the attendant separation shock for mom.

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  24. Thanks Michelle for your lovely post. You ask some wonderful questions.

    b.–that means a lot to me to know that.

    Maryb has a good point. Because he was an August baby, we waiting a year to put Luke in school, which meant he had his call before he graduated and left only three months after, never having been away from home. I'm sure that made it more difficult.

    I'd like to clarify two things about my essay that Michelle mentions in her post:

    1. My purpose in writing the essay for Segullah wasn't to scare moms about sending their babies away on missions. I wrote this because I don't like it when we are not honest or open about things that are difficult for us. When we make everything about living the gospel look easy I think it makes life more difficult and more lonely for those who struggle. I have a friend who has a hard time paying tithing. I appreciate her being honest with me and others about this being hard for her (even though it may come easily for me) because I suspect she isn't the only one who finds it difficult.

    The Sunday School answers come easily to us (we send our kids on missions, pay our tithing, etc. because we are commanded to and we are blessed for it). Sharing our experiences of the realities of going through something difficult or gaining a testimony of something particularly challenging to us or even of being obedient to certain commandments can help us feel less isolated when we struggle and can teach us compassion and understanding when we don't.

    2. Six months down the road I would still say it was difficult and painful to say good-bye and admit that I miss my son. But I would also tell you how much we have been blessed by his missionary service, how much I have loved watching him grow, how much I have grown by doing this thing that was hard for me, and how the Lord has blessed me to be able to not worry and also to feel connected to him and aware of his mission experiences in ways I could never have predicted.

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  25. Things no one told me about motherhood? Everything past the age of 2. Potty training, repitition (thats a good one…), teaching hygiene (like how to wash yourself?!?), how to explain complex words and ideas (or even simple ones like what teasing means). The list could go on.

    But the things that no one told me are good, too. Like cuddling with a five year old and reading Junie B Jones and laughing at that girls antics. No one told me how good that feels. Or how good it feels when they say "Thank you" without being prompted. Or when they do something remarkably kind for each other. When they tell me they love me. Everyone said motherhood was great, but they couldn't have possibly told me how it feels in my heart in those great moments. Nothing like it. Nothing.

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