Letting Them Go
Back to school is on everyone’s mind right now. Cute pictures of well-groomed, smiling children crowd newsfeeds. The day school started in my neighborhood, more than half the posts of the morning were school related. Pictures, status updates, tweets—it’s kind of a big deal.
We help the kids pick just the right outfit for the first day. We pack lunches, grab backpacks, and snap pictures like mad—my cousin’s kids call her the paparazzi—and the feelings are bewildering: happy, sad, ecstatic, nostalgic, more time to myself, miss them like crazy already. There’s something uniquely bittersweet about the day your kids go back to school.
The sweet part is the promise of a clean slate, the beauty of things yet to be experienced. You know that every day is a step toward fulfilling something you’ve hoped for them. And that is where the bitter comes in: fulfilling hopes equals preparing to leave.
They’re going to leave someday.
Sometimes tears ambush me. One such instance was when I read a post that said mothering means that you are “…the protector who can’t always protect; the one with arms that are designed to hold, always having to let go.”
So whether that bittersweet moment comes as you school-shop for your first kindergartener, or when your second grader tells you she doesn’t need help with her hair, or when your tenth grader drives himself to school, or when you walk into your college freshman’s old bedroom and there’s nothing but a bulletin board and old summer clothes, it all gives you the same feeling. You know, that feeling you get when the van door shuts after that first drop-off, and you watch as they walk through the double doors, and they don’t glance back even once.
Is this what you hoped for? Yep; it is.
Every year changes us in its own way, and if we play it right, it can all be for the better. Even the incidents with kids that are mean. Even the homework that gets forgotten and the tests that get bombed. They can strengthen. The question is, how will we guide them through it?
This year, that is where my focus is. On knowing that the bitter is what lets me (and them) taste the sweet. Better yet, remembering that how I handle the bitter can create the sweet.
The part of me that wants to cling to them and fix things for them is only there to oppose the part that has to be strong enough to let them grow and let them go. Getting the bitter and the sweet into balance is the only way to celebrate that they’re heading into a future that first took shape as a hope of mine, but that will be molded by their own and that’s all theirs to realize.