by Joli Beasley
Last summer, while on a family trip to Colorado, Todd and I wistfully remarked that this may be the last vacation we take with the five of us together. Since we had one son in college and another leaving that upcoming August, we were keenly aware that either summer internships would prohibit them from being able to join us in the future, or else newly kindled romances with girls they met at college might prompt requests to bring extra people along. With that thought in mind, and a touch of sadness in my heart, we made a concerted effort to soak it all in and fully enjoy the end of an era and possibly the last family trip with just us and our three kids. Unfortunately, this not-so-great selfie is the one and only picture I have of all five of us to commemorate the occasion. (We were reverently admiring the miraculous staircase at the Loretto chapel in Santa Fe.)
As predicted, both of my boys have serious girlfriends now. But while that was easy to foresee, something totally unexpected has transpired.
Initially, my maternal instinct was to view girlfriends as a positive but fragmenting development in our family. Of course I wanted my boys to date, get married and start their own family, but it seemed obvious to me that this would be our loss and their gain. In my mind, our family was like a cell that is destined to divide and multiply simply because that’s how God created and ordained it be. My overall attitude about it was, “It’s all good and the way it is supposed to be, but just brace yourself for the inevitability of it.”
And then, along came Katy. Katy is my oldest son Josh’s girlfriend. They are sophomores at OU which means we get to see them fairly regularly due to their proximity. My first memory of Katy was meeting her at Mi Cocina last spring. She, Josh and Todd were already there when I arrived so I introduced myself to Katy, gave my son a quick hug, and took my seat at the table. Before I knew a single thing about her, there was something pervasive and unmistakable about the vibe at that table…my son was so happy.
After a long and grueling first semester of his freshman year, I cannot overstate how refreshing it was to see my son smiling again. This was my first significant lesson of parenting a young adult child through the dating process (assuming it is a healthy relationship)— when they are happy, you are happy, and their happiness trumps your own. When Josh flashes that dazzling smile, my heart swells with joy, and I realized that night how little I had seen him smile lately. I was fully aware that Katy was the reason for this new spring in his step, and for that I was eternally grateful.
It didn’t take long to see why Josh was so enamored with her. She is beautiful and sweet with a laid-back demeanor. She is soft-spoken yet strong and always up for a fun adventure. When she has been at our home, she is helpful and humorous, inclusive and interested in other members of the family, and all of a sudden I find that I’m getting pretty attached. This was my second lesson to learn about this stage of life — girlfriends have the potential to complement and supplement the family, and fortunately for us, Josh had chosen one that did.
One of the things about Josh and Katy that is so precious to me is the way they act like they really want to spend time with us. About a month ago, they asked us to come to church with them one Sunday morning, so we drove over to Norman and spent the day with them. After church they needed to study and planned to go to a coffee shop. Wanting to spare them the awkwardness of showing up at a college study hangout with their parents, we offered to do our own thing for a while until they were ready to go to dinner. To my surprise, they wanted us to come along.
As we walked into the Gray Owl, which was packed with college kids, it was hard not to notice that Todd and I were the oldest ones there by about 20 years. We ordered our coffee and settled in at the last available seats, the kids with their laptops and us with a newspaper. At that moment, I was overcome with gratitude that Josh and Katy were not too embarrassed to take parents with them to the coffee shop. I paused to take in the magnitude of the moment because it meant they just wanted to be with us. Okay maybe they just wanted us to buy their coffee, but still, they wanted us to come and I was humbled and honored by that simple gesture.
This was parenting lesson number three — being included at this stage is not your right anymore, it is a privilege. It is a gift and a blessing that they give you, and when you get invited, you go. To be completely honest, Todd and I had considered taking a nap at Josh’s house while they studied, but if your college-age son and his girlfriend say they want you to come to the coffee shop with them, you don’t pass those things up.
You don’t pass it up because those moments are the cornerstones of the foundation that will support our future relationship with them, and I want to do everything I can to be certain those stones are cemented together with a love that is unconditional and always available. In addition, I want the ties that bind us together to be more like colorful threads that enable us to feel stitched together and held snug when we need it, yet they are easily unwound and loose enough to allow each one to roam free with confidence knowing they are still securely attached to the spool.
When Josh and Katy were finished studying, they wanted to show us a new park in Norman before we went to dinner. We happened to get there just in time to witness the end of a beautiful sunset and the beginning of the super blood moon lunar eclipse. As Todd and I strolled hand-in-hand a few yards behind them, I couldn’t help but notice that this felt a little bit like a double date. I’m not sure that Josh and Katy would have defined it that way, but from my perspective, there was a clear shift in the dynamics; we were not as much parent and child as we were older and younger adult, and I was totally okay with that. No, let me rephrase that…I loved it! What an exciting new season of life, and even more fun that it caught me completely by surprise.
Since Luke goes to school farther away at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I haven’t had the opportunity to spend as much time with him and his girlfriend, but we did get to meet her over Parent’s Weekend. Her name is Mary Beth, MB as we affectionately call her, and once again, we think she is darling. It is so exhilarating to begin to understand that the arithmetic of my sons’ relationships is addition rather than subtraction. These girls are adding to our family rather than taking away, and this mom couldn’t be more excited to watch how it all unfolds. When we were all together in Boulder, it was especially fun to see the interaction between Katy and Mary Beth and the way they included our daughter, Anna Kate, who is used to being the only girl around most of the time. Anna Kate loved having the gender ratio a little more in her favor, and we were so thankful to see that our boys had used such good judgement and discernment when choosing a girlfriend.
Looking forward, I have no idea if these girls are “the one” for my boys. They are still very young and have a lot of life to live before they decide these things. But since Todd and I started dating when we were 15, and we were engaged by the time we were Josh’s age, I’m never one to dismiss young love. Whether these girls are around for a season or a lifetime, I can tell you this — both of them have already impacted me in ways they may never know. They each have life stories that have touched me and inspired me and will stay with with me forever no matter whom they choose to marry.
So as expected, a lot has happened since our last family vacation, both in my boys’ lives and in my heart. If I had to sum it all up in one sentence, it would be this…when I made my reservation for our family vacation next summer in Colorado, I booked a bigger condo happily hoping that both girlfriends will get to come along.
Joli was born and raised in Tulsa and is a graduate of Southern Methodist University. She is a Board member for the Tulsa Town Hall lecture series, a freelance writer for TulsaPeople magazine, and a member of the Waller PR team. She has been married to her high school sweetheart, Todd, for 22 years and they have three children. Their oldest, Josh, is a sophomore at OU, Luke is a freshman at the University of Colorado, and Anna Kate is a junior at Booker T. Washington High School.