Right now, I’m sitting in Bryan College’s still library. It’s Spring Break, so the campus is empty except for a handful of staff members charged with duties that aren’t suspended in the absence of classes. It’s a beautiful, well-lit library on a cozy campus. It’s my first time here and frankly, I can see why, after visiting this past fall, my husband spoke so highly of it. It’s beautiful, yes. But it’s peaceful, too. Everywhere, the motto “Christ Above All” is sprinkled– and feels real.
In a large room, tucked behind overstuffed couches and stacks of reference books, Mathaus (16) is sitting with 21 other high school students, all staring intently at screens and taking the Classic Learning Test (CLT). An alternative to the ubiquitous SAT and ACT, this test is key to the next step in his future. Right now, he holds that Bryan is his next step. And it very well may be. But wherever he’s going, I know, he will go without me.
For two decades now, I’ve heard the voices of other mothers warning me of this season. That it will come too quickly, that it will wrench my heart, that I will come to the end of it and have to define, again, who I am as a woman. And I’ve seen it, these past few years. In ripples and in waves, I’ve felt the sand shift under my feet as I’ve accepted that life is not stationary–no, not by half.
I’ve let go of the dream of ever sitting by Babita while she struggled through math, even as I’ve held onto the hope that she might be a college student under my roof. I’ve choked back tears as I penned the statement to be read as Mary Hannah marched across the graduation stage, remembering the long yet too-short years of homeschooling. I’ve filled with joy and fear as I put her on a plane, again and again, to go places and do things in which I was never called to be present.
And now I am here, sitting in the mid-morning quiet with four other mothers whose eyes betray the same mix of expectation and heartbreak that I feel. This time, with this child? It is coming to a close.
I woke up early this morning. The house was still as I threw on clothes in the dark and headed downstairs, trying to decide if I would start the coffee before or after I went in to wake Mathaus. To my surprise, he was already up. Up, dressed, and checking again the contents of the big canvas messenger bag in which he hauls essentials.
“Did you set an alarm?” I asked, surprised. Mathaus is usually our latest riser, the one least given to early mornings.
“No,” he replied, “I just got up.”
And right there, I felt it. Just a small, tiny fracture in my heart, but it was there. He was up. He was up because he is ready. He is chomping at the bit. He is eager to do this thing, take this next step, walk into the calling with open hands.
I said nothing, because I am learning that the words tumbling out of the heart of a perimenopausal 42 year-old mother are often not the ones that a starry-eyed 16 year-old son needs to hear. These thoughts and feelings are best saved; shared with friends, poured out to your husband, treasured up and locked away. I put the coffee pot on the stove, and scrambled three eggs for him while he went to check the hens.
Then we got in the van, and we drove. An hour and a half south, the perfect distance for musing on the landscape, the history of the school (Bryan College is named for William Jennings Bryan), and the strange predominance of military recruiting signs in certain corridors of East Tennessee. In the quiet moments, we listened to Mumford & Sons and I wondered how quickly the next year and four months will pass, and what it will feel like the day that I pull up to a curb and begin unloading XL sheets, Costco-sized bags of walnuts, pecans, and Snyder pretzels (his favorite snacks), along with his beloved copy of Tolkein’s translation of Beowulf.
But I tried not to stay there, in that place of borrowing tomorrow’s sorrow. I tried, instead, to capture a glimpse backward at my own excitement the day I sat for my first go at the SAT. I tried to remember what it was to feel that everything is huge and looming before you, and only God knows what the next few hours will mean to the rest of your life. I tried, too, to be eager. To not see the door shutting at the end of Mathaus’ time as a homeschooled teenager, but to feel the fullness and joy of these last months. To think of the books, the music, the laughter, and the life that will be lived between now and then. That, I can be eager for. And that is the gift God has given to me as I attempt to finish well my duty of shaping yet another heart for His glory.
Afterword: One of the beauties of the CLT is that test-takers receive their score within hours of completing the exam. We are delighted to report that Mathaus performed exceptionally well.
For those interested in the CLT, I’m planning a follow-up post on our experience. This test is generating a lot of well-deserved buzz, especially after a student who scored a perfect 2400 on the old SAT failed to pull a repeat on the CLT!