Grace at my 15th year business school reunion on Saturday, sitting in my 1st year classroom, in my 1st semester seat. She’s closer to the age I was when I sat there than I am now.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Kyran Pittman‘s writing. I loved her book, Planting Dandelions: Field Notes From a Semi-Domesticated Life, and I also follow her blog. A few weeks ago she shared a Humans of New York post on her Facebook feed. It was a picture of a man with his teenage daughter, and what he said was:
“I’m supportive of anything that keeps her focused and moving forward. All I can do is try to clear away as much bullshit as possible so that she can access her future. The older she gets, the less I can control, and the less I can protect her from. It’s a bit nerve-wracking. I did get her a Swiss Army Knife last week. Because you never know when you’ll need one of those.”
Kyran’s introduction was:
This is as great a teen parenting philosophy as I’ve ever heard. Getting them to adulthood with as many choices intact as possible, and the wherewithal to choose well–that’s what it’s about now for us.
And then she added:
Or as Asha Dornfest so aptly put it, we’re parenting with the end game in mind now. When they’re little the whole object is to keep them safe. And then one day it hits you, that was just a temporary assignment.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about these lines. Parenting with the end game in mind now. Yes. And the object is still to keep them safe, but the definition of safe has changed entirely. It doesn’t feel accidental that I have this stop-and-go vertigo right now, that I feel a little unsteady on my feet, that the world feels like it’s whirling around me in a way a little more unnerving than usual.
Everything is changing, and the truth is it’s hard to catch my breath or find my footing.
Grace is sprinting towards 13, and her entire body and self are leaning towards the future in a way that I find both deeply reassuring and frankly terrifying. She’s a young woman, and suddenly parenting feels different. Of course I’ll be her mother until the end of time, even when we’re both gone, but the definition of motherhood has changed, and it feels a bit like an ill-fitting garment. Certain things that I had just gotten used to are gone and others which I somehow thought I had more time to prepare for have arrived.
I’ve always, from my very first days of motherhood, believed that my children do not belong to me. I’ve written that very sentence point-blank (as an aside, in searching for that link, I discovered that I wrote my daughter, who’s about to graduate from sixth grade, a letter on this blog on her first day of kindergarten – wow). Grace and Whit are passing through me on their way to the great wide open. They are not mine; it is my distinct honor and privilege to share these years with them. But still, the realization that I’m in the second half – probably the final third – of this season jars me. The losses pile one on top of each other. I’ve said before that while motherhood has contained more surprises than I can count the central one is probably how bittersweet it is. I ferociously love my children, and the emotion I feel for them is the central guiding tenet of my life. But even almost 13 years into being a mother, I’m staggered, over and over again by the losses that this ordinary life contains and by how frequently my eyes fill with tears.
My role these days with my tween is about abiding, knowing when to bite my tongue, being patient, and trusting that our bond will survive this passage. It is making sure she has a soft place to land when she needs it but also gently encouraging her to step outside of that familiar circle to challenge herself. It’s in that space beyond what is known that growth happens, even though it’s scary. For us both.
It’s keeping the end game that Kyran and Asha mentioned in mind. It’s knowing that what I want is an independent, brave, autonomous child. After all, so many years ago, when I put 5 year old Grace on a plane alone, I said confidently that only a child secure in her attachments can venture away. I still believe that. I just didn’t realize how much it would hurt.