The Balance of Letting Go
A letter to my kids.
It's hard to let go. At least initially and when trying to live a life that's from the heart. I've been learning about this balancing act, and it's much how I imagine surfing to be. Not that I've ever surfed; I really don't like being limited by finite edges, but how I imagine a liquid floor moving with good force might feel. And this transition is happening at breakneck speed, inclusive of everything around it, washing away all that no longer serves; pulling new and exciting things on to shore with it. Yes it all feels a bit like standing on the beach edge, rather than a nest in a tree, but the elements of water and wind are all at play just the same.
I am nearly what is often called an empty nester. My kids are close in age--17.5 months apart--and both are flying out to meet their individual air currents and ride them with what I hope is vigor and excitement. This is, at least partially, built into the parenting experience from the moment you lock eyes for the first time. Between that moment and the one when they say, (verbally or in action) "I'm ready to fly," time happens faster than anyone can prepare you for. Not that there weren't days between that seemed to last forever. Moments that were so difficult that I was a crumple of tears and exhaustion. Moments when nothing, absolutely nothing, mattered as much as a free minute to simply sit alone. I heard people say that it goes much too fast, but in those moments I didn't believe them. How could I? Breastfeeding two at the same time, having two in diapers, the constant focus on food preparation...well, it was all a little much at times. But there are times now when I would gladly go back and allow myself to just sit and marvel at them, as I did more times than I can count. Watching them create wondrous worlds out of wooden spoons and blankets or laughing with them over something as simple as dust particles floating in the rays of the summer sun. These are the things I think of now. The difficult moments were few in comparison to this rich, sensual world of new wonder. My two have always been forces of nature; each has their own (and often quite disparate) ways of interfacing with the world but both shine with lights so strong, I am left no choice but to love unconditionally and try to guide as best I can.
I'm glad I waited to have my kids. I also wish I had started earlier because I'm not sure I can measure the deep changes the experience of motherhood has instigated. These reveal themselves at odd moments and catch me a bit off-guard with their simplicity. Some of the changes are the result of making the wrong decision or having the wrong reaction in a given situation. I've made mistakes. It is my deepest hope that in those failed moments as a mother I did not cause irreparable harm. I've tried to learn immediately from whatever it was, never repeating them; more often than not I think I was successful at internalizing the lesson. I have also caught fleeting glimpses of their strength and clarity, obvious reflections I have taught my kids and that is a holy mirror no one ever talks about. I see them relaxed and comfortable in a world where fear and competition are commonplace. A world where shame forces people to act in secretive and dividing ways. Rather than create a false image of the world, I have tried to be honest with them. Rather than create a false image of myself, hiding the many-colored cloak I wear, I have worked to help them see we are all a work in progress and to never stop learning because, to quote a much-quoted Dylan, "he not busy being born is busy dying." I have tried to teach moderation because it has been my hardest lesson. Not abstinence, not purity, but responsibility and enjoyment. I've worked to separate social mores and rules from natural impulses and ingrain a deep knowledge that most of what we're expected to do or say is based on a dying paradigm that uses emotional and physical force to get what it wants. I needed for them to know this, to understand that they will be surrounded by those who will try to break their spirit, but not in our house. Our home has always been free of the social constructs that American society bullies its citizens into believing. Not that I haven't had my demons to smite when certain situations came up, but thankfully I had enough years on my own in the world to have fought many of these battles without the trusting and hopeful eyes of my children watching me.
I have come to see that the hardest part of letting go is trusting that we have done our job as parents. Trusting that we have loved them enough in the way that nurtures them individually. Trusting that we have taught them enough so that when life steps up with a sucker punch they can bounce back and walk away or fight if necessary. Trusting that their inner fire is strong enough to light their way when they are afraid. I believe that many loving parents simply do not trust themselves or their abilities in the world, but rather than acknowledging their own lack of self-belief, they blame a scary outside world or, more egregiously, their own children for not being good enough or focused enough, or some other tangled web of a thousand fears that drive some parents to control every aspect of their child(ren)'s lives. I'm not saying it's easy. It's fucking hard as hell to let go of the reins. But it must happen and when a child shows the first sign of pulling away. They will fail at times, they will falter and possibly make profound, life-altering mistakes, but such is the nature of free will. I used to say that my parenting style could be compared to having one of those retractable dog leashes. My kids could walk out as far as they liked (metaphorically speaking), but were still attached and I could reel them back in if imminent danger was around. This worked well until they learned to take the collar off altogether. That's when trust in myself became the center point in my internal dialogue. And that's when the tests began in earnest. Both astounding and terrible choices have been made by them and there were days in the recent past when it took all I had to stay the course, or to continually advocate for them in a sea of conformity and mediocrity. And now here we are, all three standing on the edge of the nest looking at the future.
I want them to fly strong and as far as their wings will take them. I also want them to be little kids again, lying all together at bedtime, with me reading aloud to them. My son always fell asleep first (well, he was the youngest), so we would all scrunch in on his bed. But my daughter often asked for, "one more chapter!" And I enjoyed it so much that away we'd go on a train to Hogwarts or observe Paris from behind a giant clock. I did my best to protect them from commercialization and a focus on consumption when they were young so no television at our house, although we rented movies from our local video store that sold bags of popcorn for a quarter. We must have seen every Godzilla movie ever made at least three times. I suppose the scholar in me studies almost everything in my world, so I've conducted informal longitudinal research that has looked at child development and I've observed that the kids who grew up watching television believed they were always being watched and that the world is a scary place. Additionally, these kids have also grown up to very often have body issues. A plain and simple cultivation theory, Mr. Gerbner, in living color. So we all spent as much time as possible outside, playing in the mud or hiking or climbing or making art...things that made them strong and unique. Summer days running around naked, all tan and healthy...yes, those were all-consuming and (mostly) wonderful years that I will carry with me until I go, like they happened just last week.
But that is the past now and today I am here learning how to balance in the act of letting go. I'm moving out into the world on my own again and it's both exhilarating and hard to not wish for a chance to do it all again. I enter this next chapter of my life with a renewed sense of self and an excitement I haven't felt about me, myself, and I--excitement that's not focused specifically on my kids or their successes--since crossing the threshold of motherhood. Not everyone who has shared in this passing chapter are by my side as I move into this new place and I'm thankful for their influences along the way. May my friends who have gone their own way be happy in this next phase and may my kids be filled with love and pleasure as they fly into the great unknown.