Last night I went on a journey through time. I traveled back to the days of firsts. First word, first step, first drawings, first day of school, first soccer game, first gymnastics class, etc. In the back of my mind I could see the baby faces, the little girls, the awkward teenagers. Then I arrived at the present with reluctance and the question that every parent asks; where did the time go?
I casually glanced through the book titles lining the shelves and realized how much they had changed as well. Picture books morphed into classic novels and a myriad of titles in between. Gone are the days of Brown, Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See and Hop on Pop. Toothless grins and tiny shoes have changed into shades of lipstick and fashionable pumps and sandals. Before I realized it, my daughters had grown up and now they are away at college. One is already in her last year and ready to enter the workforce.
The most difficult task any parent faces is that moment when we must let go. Internally we fight against the hands of time, especially in those final days following high school graduation up until the day we do the official “drop off.” Suddenly, we find ourselves trying to seize every moment and immortalize it in photos and words in an attempt to hold on just a little longer. We endeavor to fool ourselves into believing that those memories will somehow freeze time in the same way they have frozen the moment. It doesn’t work. Like it or not, time marches on. Our children grow up and if we have done our job right they are ready to face the world. They are independent and confident. They are filled with a spirit of adventure, a will to succeed, a determination to make the most of their novel experience, a drive to discover and meet the challenges they will face head on. In the same breath that we pray they are ready, we can’t help but hope they still need us.
I remember the first day I took my middle child to pre-school. She confidently walked into the classroom, sat at a table and began to draw. I waited for her to remember I was there. I knelt down to ask her about her picture which she quickly explained without even lifting her head. Finally, and with great reluctance, I told her I needed to go. She looked up, gave me a kiss and said, “Okay, Mommy. Have a nice day.” Several days later, the atrocities of 9/11 occurred and living in New York it brought an appreciation for life as we had never known it before.
It still seems surreal that just a few days ago, I stood on the sidewalk outside the apartment my girls are sharing and found myself once again saying those words. “I need to go.” If I was reluctant before, this time I found myself forcing the words out, fighting to hold the tears back, and releasing the hugs unwillingly.
I can hear the advice of so many. “It’s just college.” “They’ll be home before you know it.” In theory that is all correct, however, there is more to it than simply sending them off to college. That moment of farewell wasn’t just to my college-aged girls, it was to life as I have known it. They will come home for visits and still refer to this as “home”, but there is the stark reality that they have grown up. They are making plans and building lives that don’t include me. They are making career choices. While they may ask my opinion and for my advice, the decisions they make are now their own. I am on the sidelines watching from the spectator stands. I can cheer, I can hope, but my coaching days are over. All that is left is for me to trust the lessons and values that I tried to instill will mature, grow, and blossom. It isn’t only a matter of trusting that they learned those lessons, but trusting that I taught them well. Did I forget anything? Was there something I could have said or done better?
It is daunting to ponder all the what if’s and to be out of arm’s reach, too far to keep them safe or tuck them in. All those things I took on my shoulders I must now allow them to do. I know this intellectually even if emotionally I am rebelling. Letting go simply isn’t easy. Then again, if I did my job right, it wasn’t meant to be easy. It wasn’t any easier for my parents to let go either. I have to keep reminding myself of that simple truth. They had to trust I would be okay to face the challenges life brings and now it is my turn.
The collections of books, dolls, trophies, and certificates all stand as a testament to who they are today and are capable of becoming tomorrow. They are poignant reminders of learning, creativity, imagination, accomplishments, motivation, perseverance and success. Turning to accept our collective new beginning my eye caught hold of one last memory, a tiny scrap cut from a purple cast worn after a particularly nasty fractured ankle. I was told to never throw it away. Suddenly, it made sense. That scrap symbolizes the greatest lesson for us all. When you get knocked down and slowed down, allow yourself time to heal, plan for the future, and triumph to face another day.
The longest journey does indeed begin with the first step. Through slightly watery eyes, I can smile now with confidence. Yes, I did my best and taught them well. They are strong, independent, confident, and motivated. They will handle the setbacks, they will reach their goals, they will embrace success, and one day down the road, they will say, “I need to go.” The cycle will begin again.