Denise Spencer: Hannah Had it Wrong (But just barely)

Hannah Had it Wrong (But just barely)
A mom reveals her best-kept parenting secret
by Denise Day Spencer

I’m spending a lot of time in my daughter’s room these days. The clicking of the computer keyboard helps fill the space once dominated by her chatting and her laughter. A visitor could glance about this room and think Noel still lived here. Much of her lingers: pictures she purchased at antique stores; dried flowers, once lush and fragrant; volumes stacked on makeshift bookshelves. But a more experienced eye can quickly note the truth. The dresser top is much too neat, even clean. The nightstand is devoid of photographs in frames. And there’s the quiet.

Oh, I still hear her laugh. But now it’s on the other end of the telephone. You see, my daughter has gone to college.

We all spent an entire summer getting ready for college—a summer that was at the same time too long and much too brief. Noel spent the summer working to make money to buy things for her dorm room, then shopping, then packing, then deciding she needed to shop some more. Her dad and I spent the summer shoring ourselves up emotionally for her eventual departure.

Sometimes it was easy. We’ve never been a family to have much parent-child conflict (thankfully!) But this summer everyone was tense. I think we were all anticipating, either consciously or subconsciously, the enormous change that was out there somewhere, looming over us. And it showed.

We also had something new on our hands: a daughter who was 18 and basically a young adult, but one who was still living under our roof and expected to follow our rules. A daughter who finally had her driver’s license, but one who was still using the family car and had to ask permission to go anywhere. A daughter who had her first real job, a full-time job working in an office with adults who treated her like one of them. And it showed.

Michael and I vacillated between wondering how we were ever going to live without her and saying to each other, “Do we really have to wait till August 30? Wonder if they’d take her right now?”

Actually, Michael seemed to be the one feeling anxious. I knew Noel was ready to enter this next phase of adulthood, and I realized she would be miserable if we tried to hold her back for even one extra day.

I could sense the dread growing in our friends, too, as they prepared to send their sons off to the pursuit of higher education. The boys left a week before Noel did, and one of the dads reported how difficult it was to say goodbye. “I don’t feel sad,” I boasted. “I’m just so excited for Noel. I’m ready for her to take the next step.” He looked at me with an expression that said, “You don’t even know.” With a small shake of his head, he promised, “Your time is coming.”

Between Michael’s obvious anxiety and my friend’s gentle warning, I was more determined than ever to keep it together. Besides, how could I break down in front of my 15-year-old son? I knew Clay would have the hardest time of all with Noel’s leaving. She has been both his sister and his best friend. I had to be tough so Clay could maintain his manly facade. It was my duty as a mom.

And I succeeded. With the exception of one gulp and sniff as I hugged Noel goodbye, I looked happy. I was happy. She had spent 18 years getting ready for this moment. Even my sniffling wasn’t due to sadness. What I whispered in her ear were the words, “We’re so proud of you!” It was time to set her free.

Clay’s headphones and somnolence gave Michael and me ample time to talk on the way home. I began to notice a pattern to our conversation. We kept reassuring ourselves that this was a good thing. Kids are supposed to grow up and leave home, right? We wouldn’t want Noel to hang around forever . . . would we? An uncomfortable feeling began to grow inside me, and by the time we got home I knew what I had to do.

I had to grieve. Yes, I was happy for her. Yes, it was time for Noel to spread her wings and take to the air. But my friend was right. My time had come.

And so I sat here, in Noel’s room—on the floor next to her bed with a handful of tissues, to be exact. And the tears came. For I had to admit what I had known all along: things will never be the same again. Never again will she live in this house full-time. Never again will we sit down each evening around the dinner table and swap stories about our adventures of the day. She will be a visitor from now on, and she will be forever leaving.

Still, the tears mingled with a curious kind of joy. Why? Because I remembered something else I had known all along: I had been preparing for this moment since Noel was two days old.

It was a Sunday afternoon. The nurse brought my tiny daughter to me and stole from the room. Visiting hours were over, and Michael was home getting ready for church. I nursed my baby and then held her as she slept. The late afternoon sunlight slanted into the room and fell on her delicate features. I did what I have always loved to do in such quiet moments; I prayed. I told God that I knew she was not really mine, but His. I thanked Him for giving her to me to keep for a while, and I asked for the wisdom to love and care for her. I prayed that my little Noel would be ever growing into the person He intended her to be. And then I asked Him to help me fully enjoy each moment of our time together so when the precious years had passed I would have no regrets.

Many times through the years I remembered that prayer, and many times I repeated it. The enjoying came so easily. First the smiles and coos, next the walking and talking (much, much talking!), then on to preschool and beyond. I took the time to read to her and play with her and listen to her. I was not a perfect mom—far from it—but I truly enjoyed my child. Then I watched with delight as the years transformed that child into a teenager, and that teenager into a beautiful young woman.

Now that her big day had finally arrived, did I miss her? Terribly. Did I regret the way I had lived the past 18 years? Not a bit.

As I prayed, I realized that my petition had come full circle. I thought of Hannah’s words in I Samuel as she brought her small son to live in the temple: “Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.” (v. 28, NKJV) I realized Hannah had it wrong. She wasn’t loaning Samuel to God. God had loaned Samuel to her. But Hannah’s actions revealed her understanding of the truth. She had known Whose child this was from the beginning—and so had I.

Again I thanked the Lord for giving Noel to me. Eighteen years—such a small parcel of the span of an average lifetime! Once more I gave her up to God, entrusting Him with her safety and well-being. And I prayed that she would still be ever growing into the person of His choosing.

On a recent phone call, Noel told me of all the posters she had put up in her dorm room. Her excitement was genuine: “Our room’s really starting to feel like home!” The dormitory will be her home for the next four years. After that it will be an apartment . . . maybe even a house. But it won’t be this house. It won’t be with us.

And that’s O.K., because for now I’m going to be busy. I’ve got three more years to enjoy my son.

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