He is with every mother — always

When I stepped outside to get the morning paper today, I was stunned to realize there were no cars parked in front of my house. Thankfully, no crime had been committed. The day before, my youngest had come home from college - briefly - to retrieve her car for the rest of the school year.

As I stood on my front porch, I realized that, for the first time in eight years, I had a clear view of my street without the sight of my children's not-so-new-but-in-fairly-good-shape vehicles. One by one, they had gone: the '98 Toyota first to Charlottesville and now parked in Baltimore; the '01 Ford to Harrisonburg; and now the '03 Buick to Blacksburg.

Time had passed without my realizing. Strains of Mike Douglas singing "Where is the little girl I carried?" filled my mind as I thought about the fact that my little chickens had left the nest.

I remember when my son was born how time seemed to stand still. The days were long, measured from feeding to feeding. Days turned into nights, and the routine continued.

When the girls came along, time became my enemy, as I juggled diapers and endless laundry with soccer practices and scout meetings. I remember every night sitting on the couch teaching my son to read as I nursed our youngest while my husband tended to our middle child in the bathtub. For a while, I felt like my husband and I were simply existing, not living, in our efforts to raise our young family.

Now, those days were gone, and I was staring at the street with no cars parked in front of our house.

The other day, I met a young couple bringing their newborn to the pediatrician for his two-week checkup. They were loaded down with a baby carrier, stroller and a diaper bag that looked big enough to take on vacation. I congratulated them and asked them how they were doing.

"He's not sleeping - at all," the mother said. "I can't wait until we get past this phase."

I restrained myself from launching into a sermon to them about how they should try to live in the moment and simply smiled, wishing them the best.

As I look back over my years of motherhood, I can see times that God made His presence abundantly clear to me. Each time I handed one of my children to a woman they would call "Godmother" and watched the priest pour holy water over their heads, He was there. Each time I watched them approach His altar and eat of His body for the first time, He was there. And each time I clothed them in a robe of white to receive the seal of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, He was there.

But it dawned on me as I stood there on my front porch that while I paid close attention to Him in the sacraments they received, I missed the many, many other times when He was there, right alongside me, watching them grow up. As I laughed with them around the dining room table during so many Thanksgiving dinners; as I worried about who they were hanging out with or why they hadn't texted me; as I cried the whole way home after dropping each one off at college. While God blessed me with children for what I first thought was an eternity but turned out to be just a fleeting time, He was with me before they were conceived, and He remains with me now to help me learn how to live without them.

Two of my friends will deliver their first babies this month, and I wonder what they're thinking about as they stand back on the other side of the bridge that I've already crossed. I want to tell them to drink it all in, just as it happens. And realize that time means nothing to God, who always is, was and will be.

Witko can be reached at mwitko@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015