Disobedient. Disruptive. Defiant. And sometimes downright mean. These words all described what was then our chaos producing middle child Maddie as a two and three year-old. At a loss for how to deal with it, I resorted to outside help in a couple of books; James Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child” and Kevin Leman’s “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.”
I’m not really sure if the books were helpful or not. She might have just grown out of it. But I am sure that those who know Maddie today find it hard to believe that she absorbed more tongue-lashings and doses of swift and immediate correction than her three siblings combined.
A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend whose oldest son and Maddie’s classmate was departing for college soon. He shared with me the same uneasy feelings that my wife and I had stumbled through two years ago when our oldest daughter went away. I told him that it would be easier for both of us when the time came for our second oldest children to go away.
I was wrong.
My theory was that I had seemingly done more life with Maddie than I had with her older sister Macy. As things worked out, I managed to coach Maddie’s youth soccer, Upward basketball, middle school basketball, and even help with her travel soccer team. We had been through the battles together and seen the best and worst of each other. I firmly believed that it wouldn’t be difficult to send her away.
For all the ways that Macy had taken after her dad with a quiet and laid back personality, Maddie seemed to mirror her mother’s strength and determination. There would be no need to worry about Maddie or a struggle to let go.
But something changed in the days leading up to her departure for Taylor University (5 hours away). When I was alone in my office each day with my thoughts, surrounded by pictures of our kids from birth to present day, I cried. Some days worse than others.
I cried because I know the feeling her absence from our home will bring. But mostly I cried tears of joy and gratitude. She IS like her mother. Her faith in God IS strong. Our 17 year-old daughter is going away and I have zero fear for her ability to make good decisions. I am grateful.
Move-in day came. Her mother and I accompanied her to a few orientation type events and meals around the Taylor campus. I remained mostly quiet in the background, trying to study the looks on Maddie’s face and gauge her state of mind.
My thoughts drifted back in time more than once. I saw Maddie once again as an undersized 7th grade basketball player with a big heart.
Maddie stood nervously at the free throw line, ready to shoot, .2 seconds showing on the clock, with her team trailing by one point. She’d already missed the first free throw. When our opponent called a timeout after the miss, I explained to her that they had called the timeout just to freak her out a little more. At this point I wasn’t a coach, but I was just Maddie’s dad offering assurance to my daughter, “Sis, it will be great if you make it. It’s no big deal if you miss. Just relax.” Truthfully, she probably hit about 15% of her free throws on the year because she simply lacked the strength to get the ball to the rim. As she returned to the line to make her attempt to send the game to overtime, I positioned myself standing in front of the bench so that she could see me if she glanced my way. Fear and uncertainty showed on her face as the referee bounced the ball to her. Everything about her body language screamed “what if I miss?”
She did look my way before her she shot. “Hit or miss, it will be alright”, I could only hope she could understand that just from the look on her dad’s face.
As I walked across the Taylor campus with Maddie, I finally had to ask the question, “Well sis, do you think you’re gonna do alright here?”
Her answer was a simple, “Uh yeah.” But the look on her face said it all. “I’ll be alright.”
Second free throw goes in. We win in overtime.
Gone today is the defiance and disobedience of her early years. But the strong will lives on and plays out in her faith. Maddie believes in herself. She is strong, determined, and caring like her mother.
She’s in a great place. Her dad is grateful. And grateful for homemade cards:
“Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for making me think. Thank you for showing me how to love and live through the eyes of Jesus.” –Maddie Shay
I cried today also. But I’ll be alright.