Parental Paradox

The day I left the hospital with a tiny human tucked into his (and eventually her) car seat, I looked around furtively waiting for someone to say, “Ma’am, you can’t keep him cause you have no idea what you are doing.” Why and how I could suddenly be entrusted with the LIFE of another human being?

Being the avid reader, I, of course, took to the library, finding any and all books on the how-to’s of caring for an infant, taming a toddler, and raising a healthy child. No matter how much I read or how many months passed in those first few years, I felt ill-equipped, spending many days drowning in Mommy guilt. Honestly, it was the one job at which I never felt fully successful. At least I had a plethora of books I could consult to at least find a possible solution to any child-rearing problem.

Fast-forward to the late teenage years, you know the ones ,where the very-opinionated small semi-adult has strong ideas and feelings on how life should go and how Mom does, or doesn’t, fit in that space. With every decision, that same feeling of inadequacy rears its head again. I stand in a place where I have hardly any answers to some really tough questions, and there are no books to consult, as few authors have felt the confidence to tackle this most difficult dance of parenthood: the letting go and holding on.

Poems and thoughtful, nostalgic essays have been written on the topic, but no direct advice given. This motherhood stage is jam-packed with ALL THE FEELS. Just in the past week while celebrating the high school graduation of my youngest (which means empty nest looms), I’ve gone from excited to melancholy, giddy to tearful, confident to panicked. I am ALL OVER THE MAP! Just call me the emotional version of Carmen Sandiego.

When my oldest started his senior year just a few years back, I suddenly wished I was an octopus. I could then have eight arms to grab and hold time, people, and events for just a second longer. All around me, days moved at warped speed and nobody seemed to notice but me, the mom. It’s not that I wanted time to stand still so things couldn’t change; I just wanted to savor moments a little longer, to weigh them down in my memory.

For so many years we grip tightly to our child’s hand, even when he or she pulls against our hold, and then one day, which always comes too soon, we must loosen our fingers and let her hand slide from ours. While she turns and runs into their future, our hand stays forever open for those times when she’ll look back and need to grab hold again just to know we are still there.

In her book, The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memior, Katrina Dennison says, “letting go is also a way of saying, ‘I love you.'” The precious days when we all shared the same roof, the same dinner table, and the same world are suddenly gone. We can’t stall the days nor can we force our children to stay. So we loosen our grip and tighten our hold on the memories. It is in the letting go we declare our love because even in our own painful loss of so many things, we want our children to live a happy lives of their own.

The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s selfishness. And if there was one thing I learned early on in motherhood is that it is the most selfless thing I have ever done. Therefore, it’s only fitting that as face the ending of this season of motherhood, I’m  required to make yet another selfless choice and let go of so, so much as another birdie takes flight into a life of her own. When I let her spread her wings and fly, she will hear me whisper once again, “I love you.”

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