I got the call last week: Hi Rachel. Your daughter’s school enrolment pack is here if you could kindly pick it up from our office and return it by the 16th.
I was straight down there, excited for my girl, for new chapters, for change, for growth. Ella and I have been discussing school for a long time now – who of her friends will be in her class, what she will do, what she will have to wear – a purposely planned build-up to initiate an excited transition she instantly latched onto. She is so ready. She is so ready. The days she’s not at kindy, I can see how bored she is by what I can provide for her at home. She wants teachers and peers and classrooms and spelling and rules to follow and things to create and what’s next? But most of all, she wants to look back at me. She wants to say to me: Look mum. Look at how grown up I am now. Look at me go. And she wants me to see her and say: You go, honey. I’m so proud. Look at you go.
I bundle the pack home and lay it out on my kitchen bench, pen in hand, feeling like a proper mother. And then I see the school emblem staring out at me on the front page like some kind of passive aggressive fighting stance, and my stomach drops a little. I open it further, pulling out pages one by one: The school uniform list, the school rules form, the stationary resource list, and all I can do is shut the pack up and sit there quietly, too stunned to take any of it in.
My girl is headed straight towards you. You, with all your confusing social dynamics and painful truths. You, with your judgement and your loud, loud voice telling her what she should and should not be. She is coming for you, both your great big ideas, as well as your terrible confusion. Your invisible rules. Your tough lessons. Your pain. She is wide-eyed and full of wonder. She is open and fearless. I love her so much and I am very, very scared you will change her. Mostly, the truthiest truth is that I’m very scared you will make me lose her.
I think you’re great, mostly, but this is a total crock of horseshit. All of a sudden we’re here: the place where my influence competes with yours. And you, my friend, are a little on the questionable side. I tell her: It’s your body and you are entitled to do what you want with it. You tell her: Honey, that body is not good enough and it should instead look and act like this. I tell her: You are safe and loved. You tell her: There are bucket loads of things to be scared and insecure about so just sit there small, okay? I tell her: Your success as a woman is defined by you. You tell her: Your success as a woman is defined by my magazines covers. I tell her: Be brave. Be kind. You tell her: Compete.
You need to cut that shit out, okay? I will not stand for your invisible rules and messages any more. You gotta take care of our children. You gotta give them just enough – just enough pain to make the little things in life more beautiful and more holy; just enough hardship to teach them gratitude. But dear Lord, your biggest voice must be this: Go get it, my loves. Chase it down and make it yours and let others really see you and don’t ever let the pain prison you from love. You are safe. I’ve got your back.
That’s what you say to them okay, world? Great. I love you. You’re really friggen’ crazy but I love you.
I’m not going to lie, the cry tally is up to five now. Texts and calls and conversations have been flying back and forth between my friends and me whose children are all starting at the same school next year and none of us are okay about it. We’re in shock, sipping wine at 4pm on back verandahs together because how else are we supposed to cope with the fact that we literally just birthed these babies and they’re so innocent and now they’re off for five days out of every seven and we’re going to miss them and we thought we had time and they’re going to be in UNIFORMS and how on god’s green earth is this actually happening to us?
It’s nuts, you guys. I just will not accept it.
But still. There is a small, quiet, steady voice inside of me saying: Just ride it. Ride alongside her. This is the great, big adventure, after all.
Because I really think it’s not a mother’s job, nor her right, to protect her child from pain. I’m not talking about pain that comes from life-altering torment like abuse or neglect. Of that, she must protect. I’m talking about inevitable pain. Pain that is simply part of her child’s life path. Human pain. Rejection. Failure. Loss. Unkindness. Self-criticism. Injustice. The kind of pain which, transformed, gives us our greatest gifts. That is the pain we must step back from. That is the pain we simply look upon and say: Honey, wow. Those are hard things. Those are your hard things. But you can face hard things. Let’s face them together.
Parents always used to say to me that it gets harder as your children get older and I always discounted their views. Maybe for you, I thought, but I don’t know, these screaming kids and this no sleep and this lack of life is pretty freaking hard.
But I understand now what they meant:
It’s harder to give up control than it is to control.
It’s harder to give them to the world than it is to be their world.
It’s harder to watch them move away from you than it is to have them next to you.
I remember something I read a while back, Jenny Rosenstrach writing 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. “Mum 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.”
So all that’s left to do? Well, we pack up our fierce mother hearts and we stretch even more than before. We warrior on into giving our babies up and we cheer them like crazy because that’s what we do: We love like nobody’s business even when the love means pain. We push them free and watch them fly and we say: I’m so proud of you, honey. Look at you go.
But most of all, we provide the coziest bloody nest in the whole wide world for them to land within, close their wings and rest.
Cosy Loving Home? I can do Cosy Loving Home.
Besides, my homing call? It’s loud. My baby birds can hear it all the way from Africa.
Fly on little bird. I’m so proud of you.
Look at you go.
And don’t forget your lunch.