The Hardest Gift

I’ve seen her each morning this past week of summer. Little wisp of a girl on her brand-new big girl bicycle, shiny pink helmet guarding her head and a smile that won’t stop.

Freedom. She tastes it — possibly for the very first time. She rides up and down our street each morning, past my kitchen window, too many times to count. Pink and white tassels fly from her handlebars and flap in the wind, making her ride seem just a wee bit faster.

As parents, we want this freedom for our kids. No, really — we DO. We dole it out to them in tiny measures at first. I still remember the first time I walked down the hall, away from my young toddler’s room while he was busy and engaged with his books and toys. I was giving him a little gift — some time alone without my constant chatter or my overwhelming need to note the color of something or the sound of the train whistle in the distance. A bit of space that says I trust you, have fun, make good choices.

I’ll be right here.

What little pushes and cautious bits of freedom we give our little ones — at times, reluctantly — multiply and grow into a cloak they wear as teens. Freedom becomes expected, something they have earned bit by bit that we must never question or try to take back.

And so goes the delicate balance we live when the teens are home — especially those who have lived on their own for a bit. Their freedom is everything to them, and offers of assistance or advice are often pushed aside.

I’m fine.

Yes, mom.

I’ve got this.

I don’t need your help, but thanks.

Freedom.

When the little girl went by this morning, I asked my almost-15-year-old daughter if she remembered learning to ride her bicycle on this very same street. If she remembered the mom-imposed boundaries she was allowed to ride within without supervision. My version of without supervision at the time involved casually walking out to the sidewalk and cautiously squinting down the block to make sure she was still alive, that she hadn’t fallen prey to the dozen or so scenarios I had crafted in my mommy brain and wrapped in a blanket of worry.

She did remember, and we both smiled at the memory of a feisty little 3-year-old whose boundaries were the tree five houses down and the crack in the sidewalk just almost around the corner. The boundaries and edges of our comfort zone stretch and reshape themselves, until we are left with a young adult whose choices and decisions we no longer have much control over.

Exactly what we are intended to do.

But it’s hard. Harder than you can imagine, that first time you give that little pink bicycle a gentle push and she goes sailing away, ponytail flying and wearing a smile bigger than her face.

You will smile too… and in time, these pushes will all pay off.

I watched the little girl ride by again.

And I smiled, and silently cheered for her… and for her mother down the street.

Because she’s earning her freedom…

but her mom had to give it away.

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This piece was originally published on Moonfrye

 

 

Family Tree

The tree might have been the real reason we bought this house.

A massive Chinese Elm spreading long, graceful branches over the grass and the gravel area beneath it.

To anyone else, the yard might have seemed plain or ordinary. There were no stone retaining walls or peaceful waterfalls; no fancy covered deck with seating areas or fire-pits; and even the plants were non-descript.

But to the mother of a two year-old boy, this yard was a magical place just waiting to be discovered. Somewhere to run or to drive a Cozy Coupe; to be a superhero, pirate, or knight; to splash in kiddie pools and eat popsicles in the heat of the summer.

The tree held this magical place in a massive hug of shade during the hottest parts of a summer’s day.

Sold.

When you take a little boy who has lived in a small condominium with no yard and unleash him onto a quarter-acre lot his world suddenly becomes quite a bit bigger.

Over the course of the next fifteen years, the tree shaded several kiddie pools, playhouses, and teeter-totters; a sandbox and a fort; countless backyard birthday parties and endless rounds of summer popsicles; two crazy puppies and a little girl reading her treasured books. It has supported pinatas and a rope swing; bird nests and squirrels running amongst the branches.

Two little kids have grown before my eyes in the shade of that tree.

Yesterday my son was outside doing some yard work when he first noticed it.

A huge vertical crack down the trunk of our tree, almost breaking the trunk in half. It was so deep, I could have put my whole hand inside.

This huge branch, such a critical part of our tree, had been trying to split away for some time now without us noticing.

And now, suddenly? This branch was ready to go, the massive tree no longer able to hold on.

Like my son, who had already been busy that morning.

Hey, I thought I might start packing up some things in my room. You know, get a head start for September when I leave for college…

And I was powerless to stop it.

If I didn’t act quickly and the trunk let go too soon, the branch would hit the house and cause a lot of damage.

My eyes were teary. I felt sick inside and certain that we couldn’t save the tree; that this part of our home I had loved so much would be cut down and turned to mulch. Nothing but a memory from here on forward.

Nothing but the memories.

I made a pile of things to get rid of before I leave; you know, stuff I’ve outgrown or don’t want anymore…you can look through it if you want.

The arborist came and carefully examined the split, making notes and giving advice.

It would take all afternoon and a crew of seven men, but he felt that they could save the tree.

Finally I could catch my breath. I hadn’t realized just how much this particular element of our home meant to me.

Where the huge branch once grew now there is a raw scar, glaring at me out the kitchen window. A reminder of what once was, which will heal over in time.

And without it, the tree will still thrive.

I’m taking this duffel bag with me, so I can pack enough clothes for my visits home…

And go on to the next round of adventures beneath it’s shade.

Of Trust and Letting Go

There is a delicate balance to this game of parenting, no matter what stage of the game you’re currently at.

An ebb and flow.

Of trust, and letting go.

It begins the first time you hand your newborn child over to someone and let them hold this little gift you’ve bestowed on mankind. This small piece of your heart.

I trust you, and I’m letting go.

And while the letting go isn’t always easy, it’s essential to the well-being of your child.

And you.

So you do it, maybe even just in small steps at first.

Maybe she’s a wonderful new friend from playgroup; a confidante with whom you share tales of sleepless nights and starting solid foods. You love scheduling play dates for your babies, even when you secretly know it’s really for the moms.

Then one time when you make plans to get together, she offers to watch your baby while you get some things done.

Just for a bit.

Or maybe it comes in a big way, when you head back to work and leave your baby with someone you’ve chosen based on trust and that feeling deep in your gut. Someone who will hold and rock this piece of your heart, soothe tears in your absence, and care for your little one as you would.

I trust you, so I think I can let go.

Preschool comes, faster than you’d thought it really would. Those little smiling faces sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the brightly-colored rug tug at your heart just a bit. But your little one is learning and growing, taking big steps towards independence.

The teacher smiles and motions for you to leave, and you do. But not without turning back at the car, wondering for a second if it’s really good to leave.

But I trust you, so I’m letting go.

When your child starts grade school a host of new issues threaten the balance. Field trips on buses or in another parent’s car; recess squabbles with classmates; hours spent away from home. They seem to be spending more time with other people than ever before, being influenced by their peers whether you like it or not.

Because you really can’t always be there.

And each year as they get a bit older and a bit more independent your trust begins to shift. Now it’s not only trusting the other adults who interact with your child, but also a trust of your child himself.

Trust that the little person you’ve been raising is getting a good sense of right and wrong, has the ability to make good decisions, and has tucked away some good common sense.

I trust you, which helps me let go.

The teenage years push trust to the forefront, and the give and take is on a daily basis. Can I borrow the car, stay out past midnight, go visit a friend, hang out at the mall?

Trust, always on a teeter-totter finding balance with letting go.

When you watch your teenager leave the house in a car driven by his teenage friend, you have to summon the trust from deep within. Because to trust another child to drive your child just takes the game to a whole new level.

I’m trying to trust you, so I can let this feeling go.

College beckons, pulling my son away not slowly but in an instant one day this coming fall. And while the journey of these past 17 years has gone way faster than the younger me had ever imagined, we have built a foundation of trust that will carry him while he’s out of reach.

When he needs to make decisions on his own, right his wrongs, and use that common sense he’s been stashing away.

I’ve learned that I can trust you, and now I can let go.