Hold On. Let Go: A Parent’s Balancing Act
Remember. I must remember this. It’s 7:30 a.m. and I’m dropping my three-year-old Evan off at LaLa’s Home Daycare. Since I’m running late for work, I ask Evan to “be a big boy” and walk in by himself. We hug and kiss in the car. “O.K., Momma.” He walks to LaLa’s door, stops, waves, and throws me kisses. Evan will be o.k.Letting go of our kids, whether we’re dropping them off at daycare or telling them to call a tow truck when they’re stranded on a highway on their way to work, is a precarious balancing act. At first, we hold our infants so, so close. Those first few years our babies cry and reach for and only want their mommas. And, for the most part, mothers love being wanted. But soon parenting becomes a balancing act. Kids start to naturally pull away from the pampering and pestering, and just as naturally parents struggle with giving up control of these beings we “brought into this world.” From letting go of a tiny hand as my child takes his very first steps to letting go from an extra-tight hug when I leave that same son at his college dorm, I feel both excited and worried for my kid. As my mind pushes my three sons into independence, my heart aches to clutch them close and pat their heads.
Now Evan is 23, and I often pull up that sweet memory at LaLa’s. It’s a cold, gray day. Evan’s dressed in blue: blue sweat suit, blue jean jacket, steel blue knit cap pulled down over his ears. He takes his thumb out of his mouth, hops down from his carseat, and heads towards LaLa’s door. He’s all smiles, walking backwards, and throwing me kisses all the way down the driveway. Freeze-frame on that face. The smile that lights a universe. Those pudgy hands sending kisses my way. Those sweet cheeks and honest eyes that go down at the corners. I’ll hold tight to that sight, that face, that flood of love forever.
Next, I contrast that beautiful balance of holding close and letting go with last Wednesday when I attempted to help Shane, my 29-year-old, with his car. Shane’s car had stranded him on Hwy. 360 at 5:22 p.m. The thermostat was running extra hot while the engine was refusing to go faster than 45 mph. Now I know nothing about cars and I fear Shane knows less. I drove out to help him, and after he and I fumbled our way through adding a ton of coolant in what we hoped was the right receptor, he gingerly drove the wounded vehicle to his place while I nervously followed behind. Early Thursday morning Shane drove the still hot-running car to our longtime mechanic, and I met him there to give him a ride to work. Shane looked broken when he got into my CRV. Our mechanic had kicked Shane’s down-for-the-count ego to the curb for not towing his car to the garage the day before. There was talk of blowing a gasket or throwing a rod. Shane’s not-yet-paid-for car might be headed to the salvage yard.
“My life already sucks and now THIS!” he said.
“What, besides the car crap, sucks?”
“Well, there’s the fact that I got laid-off two weeks ago.”
“TWO WEEKS AGO!? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“ ‘Cause I knew you’d go berserk and stress me out even more.”
“Well…uh..maybe I could help. I could send you job leads or…”
“No! No! That’s not what- .”
“But I just wanna hel- .”
The rest of the conversation included unfair accusations, teary confessions, and probably some alternative facts. I inwardly told the mothering monster inside my head to, “Back off, bitch!” and the last five minutes of our car ride were a heavy, heavy silence. That day’s morning sunshine mocked our mother/son sadness. Later that day I texted Shane an apology mixed with a pithy proclamation of my love for him.
Why, oh, why doesn’t parenting get easier as we get older and wiser? Why can’t I, an English teacher, communicate with Shane, my English/ Communications graduate son?
I pull my boys in. I try to control. I say I want only to protect and serve my sons. I also want to watch my sons grow and prosper and succeed in life – in their own lives, that is. “Ay, there’s the rub.” Letting go of a kid (even in his 20’s or 30’s or 40’s…) can be like that part of the roller coaster ride when the coaster is at its highest peak, and I look at the straight-down track before the ride goes down, down, down with seemingly out-of-control speed. I LOVE that moment! I’m racing down a rickety track and my stomach jumps into my throat and I scream like a lunatic: a thrilling yet frightening sound! And for about 33 seconds I’m screaming and laughing all at once, and I don’t take a normal breath until the coaster slows and confidently ends where it began. So, seeing my kid scale a mountain or jump off a cliff (both literal and figurative ones) makes me shut my eyes and go, “Please God, please God, please God!” Then I later feel a wild and wonderful wave of relief when I open my eyes and behold my son’s full-body smile.
Now when I recall my thumb-sucking Evan at age 3, the memory may morph into a bespectacled, bearded Evan at age 23 or blend into a poet/comic Shane, age 29 or a daredevil Casey, age 26. And the older Evan tells me not to “take it personal” when he or his brothers don’t answer my too-frequent texts or have time for dinner on Tuesday, a visit with Papa on Wednesday, a Netflix movie on Thursday, or a play date with our dog Millie on Friday night. My sons, like me, have their own lives. They’re ok. I’m ok. “Let be.”