It’s Always the Darkest Before Dawn

Darkest Before DawnThere’s an old adage that says “it’s always darkest before dawn.” I’m not sure of the scientific accuracy of this statement as I try to avoid dawn scenarios, but the message is sound. It simply means that when things are at their worst, something is about to give. This applies to the last month of pregnancy, three-year-olds (all of them, everywhere), teething babies, and, yes, teenagers.

I used to think this phrase meant when you’re at rock bottom, you have nowhere to go but up. But time and again, I have found that when things are at their worst, it’s a sign of transition. Without fail, just as I’m seriously contemplating what exactly it would take to escape to Mexico on foot (because starting the car would wake the dragons), a shift occurs and the dragons grow tame, or they present a new challenge that takes my mind off Mexico – for awhile at least.

To illustrate my point, think back to that last month of pregnancy with the swollen ankles and aching back. That month exists simply so that you don’t care what labor looks like as long as it results in a baby going from the inside to the outside. Likewise, three-year-olds exist to give us perspective on what we thought were the “terrible twos” and, later, middle school. Teething babies scream and cry until those teeth finally come in and they can effectively bite their siblings. And teenagers … ahhh, teenagers. We spend a handful of years quietly (or sometimes loudly) fantasizing about them leaving, because then maybe, just maybe, we won’t keep finding moldy dishes in the den and dirty sock trailing up the stairs…and we won’t have to worry about curfews, sports’ practices, questionable friends, bad moods, late homework, more bad moods, smart mouths and stupid decisions…but, I digress. Then suddenly, they grow up in front of our very eyes, graduate from high school, and leave us standing in a puddle of our own tears. But not before driving us to the very brink of insanity.

In case you couldn’t tell, lately, I’ve been helping my oldest daughter get ready for college. She leaves in a few very short weeks, and yet the list of things that need to be done before that happens seems to grow by the day. That means that the majority of my time is spent lurking around corners so that I can leap out and grab her every time she walks by. It doesn’t happen often, hence the leaping and grabbing.

Not surprisingly, my list of things for her to do differs rather dramatically from her list. For example:

My List:

  1. Write thank you notes for graduation gifts
  2. Spend meaningful time with sisters and mother before leaving
  3. Clean something – anything will do
  4. Remove moldy dishes from the den (does not count as cleaning as it should be a normal human response to mold. Seriously.)
  5. Make a list of things needed for school
  6. Organize bedroom to see what is already available
  7. Make a second list of things still needed
  8. Buy said things
  9. Pack said things
  10. Go to school

Her List:

  1. Spend every waking second with boyfriend

Ok, maybe that’s not totally fair. She also spends as much time as possible sleeping. And shopping. She does go shopping, but not for college things – mainly just for Cheeze-Its and ironic t-shirts. At any rate, I find that in order to get anything accomplished, I have to follow her around with my list and read it aloud repeatedly. I should probably just text her and save us both the trouble.

Over the past year as graduation grew closer, college applications went out, acceptance letters came in and, finally, college orientation happened (thereby making the whole “leaving” thing official), I had overwhelming moments of dread at the thought of her actually going away. Not just because of the thought of her being on her own (I am not even joking about the moldy dishes), but because of the giant gaping hole that her absence will leave in our delicate family dynamic. It’s been me and my three girls against the world for a long time – and losing one of the musketeers seems unimaginable.

However, at the moment, her room, far from the organized college-ready sanctuary I dream of, looks more like the aftermath of a robbery – assuming the robbers dumped bags of clothes on the floor. She is testy with me and her sisters. She comes and goes without warning. More than once, I have texted her to see when she will be home, only to have her text me back from her bedroom (I can only assume she is a ninja in her spare time). She helps out in spurts, but many of the chores go undone. She is frustrating beyond belief.

With nothing but hindsight in my favor, I have to keep reminding myself that this summer is all about transition. This darkness indicates the coming of dawn – for better or worse. And where I gain my greatest perspective is in the realization that while I’m the one dealing with the effects of transition, it’s my child that’s doing all of the hard work. In pregnancy, that baby that makes your ankles swell and backache is just as ready to get out as you are to get it out. Three-year-olds live in a world where they know desperately what they want and how they feel…but no one understands what they are trying to say. Teething speaks for itself. And try to remember the horrors of being a teenager in a changing body with a world of uncertainties swirling around you. Of COURSE it’s going to be hard for everyone involved. Change is never easy.

But as I watch my daughter get ready for perhaps the greatest transition of her life to date, I can see a faint light on the horizon. Sooner rather than later, she will be her own woman and have her own life. Over the last 17 years, I have had the privilege of being by her side through the greatest of darkness – from that last month of pregnancy when all she wanted was to get out to her last summer in a known world before leaping into adulthood. So even on the darkest days, I am grateful for this summer with all of its frustrations, because there’s a dawn coming – and something tells me it is going to be beautiful.


Anna Strock
Anna has spent the last 18 years writing, directing creative projects, and trying to be the best mom possible to her three girls. When she's not exploring Richmond for the latest and greatest resources, offerings, and activities, she can be found daydreaming on travel blogs, drinking too much coffee, and running kids to endless activities.