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Built: A Generation
Sep 2, 2014
It begins in such an innocent and seemingly insignificant way. You see a cute girl at an event, your buddy Kevin introduces you and something sparks. You don’t really see it coming. You don’t realize that with that first phone call the seeds are laid for something bigger than you. This is how families begin, lives are created and communities are built.
You thought you were just trying to make-out with a cute girl! Three months later you own a diamond ring (briefly), and you’re calling the priest and reserving the church. You don’t see and didn’t realize that you were about to be part of a great work of humanity.
THEY WERE JUST LITTLE BUGGERS
Four times in the next nine years we visited our friend Dr. Bjordahl in the maternity room at the hospital in Webster. Each child’s story, already nine months in the writing by then, could fill pages of humor, struggle and pain all the way to that first breath and loving cry (by us, not them).
Over the years after that, each parent can recount the events, big and small, that made up each life’s story. You remember the birthday parties, first days of school, baptisms and confirmations and friendships made and lost as each child grew — unexpectedly — to adulthood.
The most common admonition young parents receive is to “enjoy them while they are young,” which falls on deaf ears. At that point, they’re coming every couple of years. You’re up to your elbows in the smells and feels of fresh diapers. They don’t let you sleep at night. They toss food all over your car, and your former sporty ride has become a distant memory next to the mini-van that is now a necessity. It’s true there was much to ”enjoy,” but there didn’t appear to be any reason to see an end (or peace and quiet) in sight, that required you to appreciate it.
IT’S NOT AN ACCIDENT
It seems like happenstance, but it isn’t. Parenting is a vocation each person is called to. In the words of John Henry Newman:
God has created me to do some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which he has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connections between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do his work.
The vocation of parenting is summarized in our faith like this:
A child is a creature and a gift of God, which comes to earth through the love of his parents. True love does not desire a couple to be self-contained. Love opens up in the child. A child that has been conceived and born is not something "made", nor is he the sum of his paternal and maternal genes. He is a completely new and unique creature of God, equipped with his own soul.
Admittedly, numb from lack of sleep, while feeding a screaming little one at 3 a.m., it is hard to grasp your place in the bigger scheme of creation. But to those to whom it matters most, the message eventually comes through clearly. I saw a friend’s daughter’s Facebook post recently that thanked her parents for enduring the struggles, staying together and raising her to adulthood. As I read that, I thought, “Dang, so that’s what this has been all about.”
SOMETHING CHANGED ALONG THE WAY
Long after you fell in love — over a decade later — things changed. The little buggers started making intelligent conversation! The acne-fighting, crooked-teeth, emotional roller-coaster kids were now talking about college and careers. They weren’t asking to be walked to the park any more. They actually wanted a bike, so they didn’t have to drive their cars all the time. They don’t empty the candy dishes any more, and they start thinking exercise is a good thing.
It’s like you blinked and the sippy cups were gone. Now there are adults walking around your kitchen.
YOU BUILT A GENERATION
Parents get forewarned. They start hearing from people that they will soon be “empty nesters,” and just like “enjoy them while they’re young” you don’t get it. It doesn’t sink in. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve got four babies. Nobody asked permission for them to grow up and be adults.
Then it happens. For us in one week we shipped the last three off to college. In eight days our life changed. For 27 years we built a family, nursed wounds, cleaned up after them, tried to teach them a little about right and wrong. Then it happened: they were adults. They had plans. They were gone.
I thought she was just a cute girl in a hallway. I didn’t know it would lead to that. Then we thought we were building a family, and we didn’t know it would lead to this. They’re gone, and it turns out we built a whole dang generation!
Enjoy them while they’re young.
Lee Schoenbeck grew up in Webster, practices law in Watertown, and is a freelance writer for the South Dakota Magazine website.