My kids were screaming at me to get dressed faster so they could chase some Pokemon that was around the corner. Ever the selfless dad, I said “go without me,”something they were happy to oblige.
But as they were running out the door I stopped them. I made them look up at me, away from their screen, and practically begged them to be mindful and careful crossing the street. They promised they would and ran off.
I felt sick.
I felt sick because despite having almost no confidence in their fidelity to their promise, they’re 9 and 10 and I knew I had to let them go. I listened for tires screeching, and worried till they came back unscathed, which of course they did (apparently more than can be said for the Pokemon along their way.)
And I realized there aren’t that many discernible moments in our kid’s lives where we can see the moment things changed. This, the first time I let them go do something despite my misgivings about their doing it, was one.
Like most parents I want to protect my kids. But as they get older, I know protecting them no longer means simply insulating them. Now, protecting them requires adapting to the shifting balance between insulating and exposing; between holding on and letting go, catching them and letting them fall. Protecting them is no longer just about keeping them safe, but about preparing them for the vagaries of life and an independence as inevitable as it is now, to me, unfathomable.
When EllaRose was 3, we went to her parent/teacher conference (whatever that is for 3 year-olds). One of her teachers explaining how things were going said “you know, she’s a bit uncomfortable with the other kids, but I just keep her close to me, and she’s fine.” And while I appreciated the intent, I wasn’t all that happy with the execution, and made the comment that I’d like the teacher to hold her less close so she could get comfortable with discomfort and learn she’d find a way through it. In retrospect, perhaps 3 was a tad premature, but I hold to the point.
So yesterday was the first time I let my birds leave the nest worried about what could happen. I know this colors me (and them) privileged in so many ways, but as they ran out the door with me still standing undressed, I didn’t feel privileged, I felt nauseous. And when I realized that this was the first time of a lifetime of all the next times this would be the case, I felt sad and happy and sick again, and came face-to-face with the truth that protecting them will increasingly mean letting them fall and fail, and figure out what to do when they do, if they do.
I know the odds are they’ll be better than fine. So I guess it’s me, and a whole bunch of unsuspecting Pokemon, I’m really worried about. And I can’t help but wish there was some nursery school teacher who’d keep me close so I‘d feel more comfortable.