When he got out of his car I was taken aback. I did not expect to see such a young man. He was tall and handsome, reminding me of my older brother when he was a young man of the same age. “I am here to see Jennifer.” he said. I poked my head out of the local food pantry and greeted him with a smile. “Hello, thank you so much for coming. You are a huge help to us today.” He responded with a kindness and warmth that I had not experienced from a young person in some time. Intent on letting me know that he took this volunteer opportunity seriously, he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t pick up on your first call, I didn’t recognize the number.” We proceeded to discuss the grocery deliveries, the procedures, and drop off locations. As he loaded the heavy bags into his car he continued to chat with me. After a few minutes, things were ready and he drove away with a wave of his arm out the open car window. As I watched him turn the corner out of sight I thought, “there goes a terrific young man who is making this world a better place. His parents must be proud.”
With another school year approaching, I have been thinking a lot about my children. I can’t believe that this is the last year when I will have a child in high school. It seems like only yesterday when I was walking my oldest into her first day of kindergarten at our beloved little school, Milford Catholic Elementary School. I can still see her round cheeks, short pigtails, and plaid jumper with the white peter pan collar peeking out. Then, as if in a flash, she is working for a Fortune 500 company by day and studying for her MBA at night. I am nostalgic and proud at the same time.
When my children were small, I distinctly recall two important women in my life reminding me not to “wish these years away”. Both my mom and mother-in-law wanted me to cherish the moments when my children were young and growing up under our roof. At the time, I don’t think I took their advice as seriously as I wish I had. Life was chaotic with three small children and often overwhelming back then. I recall not having enough hands to accomplish what I needed to do in a day and I would silently hope that things would get easier when the children were older. Now I am the mother of older children – two mature college grads (one moved out!) and I can assure you that I’d go back to those early days in the blink of an eye.
As mothers, we want our children to always be loved, safe and happy. When they grow up and move on in life, we lose our ability to really know that they are okay – I’ve learned that I can’t control their future. All I can really do is pray, have faith in God’s goodness and trust that the good things my husband and I taught them as children will stick with them throughout their lives. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to love all people and to live virtuously with good morals. I believe that it is equally important to teach children to know and love God and to place Him at the center of their lives. This alone will help them succeed in life and find lasting happiness, no matter what may come their way in the future. Folks go about this in different ways and there is no perfect method. My husband and I did our best to make God the center of our home by sending our children to Catholic schools so they could learn about their faith and by making weekly Mass a regular time to pause and thank God for his many blessings. When life got tough, as it always does, we tried to show our children that there was no magic pill; only faith, hope, and love would get our family through the difficult times and help us build stronger relationships with each other. Looking back, I am sure we could have done things differently, and probably better, but I am at peace knowing that we gave our very best to our children daily.
As an older mom, I have discovered that the single best thing I can do for my children now is to pray for them. In my youth as a mom, I didn’t have the wisdom or experience to realize that this effort of pouring out my heart’s desires to God for their well-being can make a huge difference in their lives. Thankfully, God allowed me to stumble enough times to realize that if there ever was a magic pill, prayer is it. St. Monica, whose feast day we just celebrated, is the model for all concerned, devoted mothers. She prayed persistently for her wayward son Augustine. It wasn’t until St. Augustine was over the age of 30 that he finally became the man God had created him to be – thanks to the fervent, relentless prayers of his loving mother. Children will walk their own path, and may even take a few detours that we might not like, but we can’t ever give up praying for them. God will see them through the tough times and bring them back to Him. My beloved mom taught me this and it is a role that I take quite seriously.
Thinking back to my afternoon encounter with the young man at the food pantry, I wondered what his upbringing was like. Did his mom worry about him? His dad? I’ll never know the answers to these questions, but it’s not important. What I do know is that he is a kind and thoughtful young person who was taught well. And like most of our children, he makes his parents proud by choosing to do good in the world. His mom doesn’t have to worry about him at all. But alas, she probably does and always will. Nobody’s perfect.