Parenting is one long lesson in letting go. We carry on, smoothly for awhile, and then something happens to jar us out of our pleasant stupor, and we see clearly how much time has actually passed, and we understand again that our job is to take dependent infants and turn them into independent adults.
If we are successful, they will grow up and away from us, which is nothing short of frightening for a parent. This is why many of us try to keep them little for as long as we can, sobbing when they celebrate birthdays or begin a new grade at school. It never stops being a challenge, but this is what we signed up for when we held them in our arms as newborn babies.
In July, Ava went on a horseback riding trip organized by our town. She invited a friend and I snapped a picture of their grinning faces as they sat on the school bus waiting to leave on the all-day adventure. Ava wasn't scared, not one iota, and I'm sure the day passed in a happy instant for her, while it seemed endless to me. I wanted her to come home, and be safe, and know that I was there if she needed me, but at the same time I recognized that it was up to me to manage my sinking dread that she was completely fine on her own.
I picked her up at 4:00, giggling and chattering away about all of her adventures, and suddenly I saw the road ahead. It was filled with more and more of these wonderful experiences for her, and I knew that I would be staying in one place while she would be moving down her own path, further away from where I am. Millions of parents have been here ahead of me and survived it, so my prognosis is hopeful, but it's still a journey I must take, whether or not I feel ready for it.
A couple of weeks after the horseback riding, Ava went to her friend's house for a sleepover. I missed her again, but the ache was slightly less acute, and I could access a little gratitude that she was able to take this step and know that she was safe and okay. I was reading in bed, a little after 10 pm (yes, I'm old and like an early bedtime) when the phone rang. It was Ava, crying and saying she missed me, and I was happy and sad in equal measure to hear from her.
We talked for ten minutes. I prayed for her, and when we hung up I was confident that she would fall asleep just fine, and prove to herself that she didn't have to be with her family in order to be okay. I wanted her to learn that she can carry security inside of her, everywhere she goes, instead of thinking that she needed her mom and dad for that. But I was also glad for the reminder that she is only 9, and still experimenting with her independence.
Parenting is a long lesson in letting go, but it's also about stages. Each season only lasts so long, and while we are in it we must embrace it with our whole heart, for nothing lasts forever. I love this stage that we are in with both of our kids, and I must remember to immerse myself in it before it has receded into a beautiful memory.