I saw her before she saw me. She stood gripping the hand of one of the teachers, and although I only saw the back of her, I already knew she’d been crying. I slipped in, torn between my instinct to scoop her up and keep her home forever, and my desire to prepare her for the world in front of her.
This was the third week in a row, after such a successful transition into kindy life, that things were going downhill. She was regressing and we all knew it. Her teacher sat me down and explained that she was behaving excessively clingy, wouldn’t play with the other children, and would sob and sob if she ever had to leave to do some other jobs. If her teacher ever finished her shift early, Ella would cry until I came to pick her up.
When these kinds of situations happen, a mother’s first instinct is to question herself. What did we do wrong begins the avalanche of different scenarios we should have instead chosen. Should we have sent her to structured care earlier? Are we sending her away from the nest too soon? Are we not giving her enough attention at home? Are we giving her too much? Should I leave home more so she relies less on me? Should I be having more one on one time with her?
On and on it goes.
When it comes to parenting, the big and small decisions we are faced to make are endless. But like Rumi said, there are a million different ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
Luckily for us, this means that there are a million different ways to be good for our children, and that the strengths we bring to the parenting table are valuable. Organized and routined? That’ll come in handy. Laid-back? You’ll need that, too. At home with your children? Good to hear. Working away from the home? Awesome. Great life lessons there, too. We will never be everything for our children. By the simple act of being human, there will always be ways we fall short, ways we do them a disservice, moments we fail to guide them as we’d hoped. And you know, for every decision we make, there’s always a flip side that assures us that whatever we’re doing, we’ll screw them up somehow anyway.
It is so challenging to watch our children endure pain. It is. But what’s more challenging is knowing we cannot stop pain from happening to them. They are an open target to failure and struggle and heartache, since these experiences are an integral part of life. And doesn’t THAT suck to realize? I was talking to a friend on the weekend and he said, “You know, the reason I don’t want any more kids is simply because I don’t think I could endure the heartache”.
I understood exactly what he meant.
Because he knows this is just the beginning. He knows that right now? Right now isn’t even the half of it. Right now, they’re with us. We control so much of what can and cannot happen to them and thank sweet Jesus because NO THANK YOU TO OUR CHILDREN ENTERING THE HANDS OF THE GREAT BIG WORLD. Right now, we are their life. But he knows, this friend of mine, that slowly and surely, they are growing up and away into Life with all its DYNAMICS and CONFUSION and DISAPPOINTMENT and STRUGGLE, while we remain without them hoping with all our might that they are treated with care. That they are chosen to play with. That they are smiled back at. That their strengths are recognized and their weaknesses forgiven. That they are seen and loved the way we see and love them.
It’s as vulnerable as it gets, raising a child, and it’s the battle between a mother’s head and her heart which makes the act of loving her child the fiercest roller coaster she will ever ride.
Because you see, I watch my daughter crying and my head and my heart go to war. My heart sees my INFANT — my tiny, vulnerable, more-precious-than-diamonds child and wants to helicopter the hell in there and pull her to safety, at home with me forever where it’s cozy and warm. But my head. My head knows that I am doing her a disservice every time I cotton wool her from situations which, really, she needs. We made the choice to keep her at home exclusively for two years, and in that time she barely had a day without me. We choose what felt right for our family, and like any choice, we run with our instincts and close the door on a different path, hoping the one we’re walking is the best. But as age creeps up on our children, as time gathers momentum and little birds need to fly, we parents walk that crazy road of merging our heads and our hearts and – far from just wanting them to be happy – we learn that we want them to be is okay. Okay without us. Okay in the world. We want them to be resilient and courageous. We want them to be confident and self-reliant. We want them to be fulfilled and we want them to make the most out of what they’ve got. And these traits, we realize, are developed when they look over their shoulders, know we are there backing them, but then walk into their own arena to face their own worlds.
So I will be there, tissues and kisses and warm baths on hand, ready to pick up whatever broken hearts my children will drop along the course of their lives, and although it will just about kill me to endure, I will try to be wise enough to let them face it, gracious enough to see them feel it, and brave enough to let them go.
I remember something I read a while back, Jenny Rosenstrach writing in Real Simple about her not being able to fix her daughters’ problems at school, and their consequent heartache. She reflects on her mother’s approach of sitting out the problem and letting the daughters figure it out on their own. “Mom did give me one tangible way to help,” she explained, “You just make sure that when those girls walk in that door every day…they never doubt that home is the most comforting place for them to be. That is what you can do.”
We give our all to stretch our baby birds’ wings and teach them to soar. But most of all, we provide the coziest damn nest in the whole of the world for them to land upon, close their wings and rest.
And my homing call? I’ve nailed it. It’s loud. My baby birds can hear it all the way from Africa.