I never went far for college. Never packed my belongings into a handful of suitcases, bags and boxes, minimizing what was important based on what I could fit into a car and then fit in a dorm space. I never had to watch my parents drive away from me in a car out of a town in complete excitement and fear. Instead, I stayed close to home and enjoyed the perks of living college out with home cooked meals and my Dad available any weeknight evening for a math or science tutor session.
Yet, even as I lived this life I still define the moment when parents let their children go to the college experience. But that never happened for me. I gained a sense of independence and my parents gained some parental freedom but that pivotal moment of walking away never actually happened in the way I identify, even as a parent today, in my mind as letting go.
However, we let go all the time as parents. As we stand there on our front porch snapping a picture of them proudly holding a sign you scrambled together that morning while they still peacefully slept in their Disney character sheets, which reads, “First Day of Kindergarten.” With the wind in their hair and a glee in their high pitch squeals, we release our hands on the back of that bike seat and hold our breaths with anticipation on whether they will fly or fall. As the Pomp and Circumstance song begins in a hot, crowded gymnasium, and you search from high above in the bleacher seats for their face in a sea of mortar boards, you sigh at the symbolism of the end of their teenage years. When the hot summer sun blazes against your dark suit, but you reach for her hand, which even twenty some years later feels as small as the day you held her against you in a hospital room, but instead you look at a glowing beauty in a white gown, you fight the tears as you hand her away.
These are incredible moments of letting go. Symbolic and traditional in the sense of milestones parents know are markers of goodbyes, and yet when I look at the picture above it hits me hard even in this motherhood season that I am in, each day letting go more and more. It is hard to grasp but I instinctively feel the turmoil as I pull away and yet still lean in.
Each day little moments of her growing independence pangs me with pride, yet stings me with a bittersweetness that only a parent letting go will understand. This new season is marked with phrases like, “Let me do it,” and “I want to do by myself.” I usually throw my hands in the air and step backward, allowing her to visually see that I am walking away. But, that is the hardest for us dear Mommas, that taking a step back.
Sometimes, we feel frustrated, like when we are in a complete hurry and they insist on putting on their own shoes. Usually, after a few failed attempts, I grab the shoe out of her hand and explain, “I appreciate you trying but we have to go.” Other days, we feel motivated to let them go on their own when they proclaim they want to go to the bathroom or climb in and out of their car seats on their own.
But, at this moment and in this season for our little family these insignificant moments which are minor crumbs to the major chunks of life moments I described above, hit me in a hard way as I realize we are very much going forward and I feel the significance of hurried time. All these small moments of her letting go add up to one big realization and that she is indeed growing up before my eyes. Something I knew but never really felt until I look at her now.
Great joy comes with some heartache along the way and for us parents, the heartache is that step backward. Every step back for us is a huge step forward for them. So you take a deep breath and regardless if it is a small letting go or a big, symbolic one, know you are never alone in feeling all those feelings because we as parents will spend all our years holding on, while letting go.