We run downhill on a single track through a lush Midwestern woods, sunlight and green rushing past. Our feet staccato over roots and stones, undergrowth brushing our legs as we fly. I let out a whoop, and my daughter answers with another, on my heels in the final mile of our five-mile trail run.
The moment captures my summer—idyllic, free, and in the company of my children. Their presence at home these three months has been sheer gift, which I open each day with a bit of wonder. It’s been a summer of sacramental ordinary, of weekends at the lake or just at home, of days of work and routine brightened by the presence of my kids.
My empty nest is temporarily full again, and I’m savoring each moment of a fleeting summer.
This is, quite probably, our last summer together. Both kids came home from college this summer because they found summer jobs here. In the next two weeks, my daughter will leave for a semester abroad and my son will return to the west coast. My daughter will graduate next spring, my son plans to stay in Oregon to establish residency there.
Every run with my daughter, every meal on the deck with the two of them, every evening when we read on the couch, every time my husband and I and our kids sit in the living room laughing hysterically about who knows what—I tell myself, hold this tenderly. Remember it, live it, be fully present in this sweet, joyful moment.
When I begin to anticipate their departure, which is imminent, I push the thoughts away, determined to stay present, to enjoy the gift that this moment, and this, and the next, actually are. I will be sad when they leave, but I have to constantly choose not to feel that ache now, when they are sitting across the table from me.
Driving home from our run (we finally made it out to Crystal Lake to the trail I’d been meaning to show her all summer) we feel a post-run euphoria (enhanced by Starbucks). We laugh for no reason, and say out loud that we’re happy and it’s such a beautiful sunny morning and aren’t we lucky?
She plays me one of her mix CDs that includes Only the Good Die Young by Billy Joel. “I love this song” she says and I’m like—really? We turn it loud, I sing along and when it’s done she says, “Mom, you know all the words to that song!” I said, “I know all the words to every song on that album! I owned it—on vinyl!” We laugh as I start singing the lyrics again.
I tell her I’m so happy she came home this summer, so thankful that she went running with me this summer, and so glad that she and her brother are buddies. “I actually prayed about that before the summer,” she says. “You prayed you’d get along with your brother?” I asked. They always get along. She’s a leader, he’s laid back. They’re both creative. The combination has worked well since they were toddlers.
“Well, yes, and that we’d all get along as a family,” she said. And we did. Mostly. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot of fun.
The end of my kids’ teen years is a bittersweet season. I love who they are becoming. I enjoy them more than ever. And yet, the maturity that makes them so interesting and fun to hang around with is also what compels them to go off and find their own trail, and to run it.