Our most recent trip to Walt Disney World may have been the last one of my girls’ childhood wonder. It wasn’t on purpose. They didn’t try to do it but it happened. I felt it. The gentle pulling away that is growing up. As a parent, there’s nothing you can do about it.
You’re presented with 2 pseudo choices, go with it and gently let go with a loving smile while wiping away the secret tear in your eye. Or you can hold on for dear life, as they push, pull and drag you off of them. They love you but their instinct is to achieve maximum freedom and independence. You’re a hindrance to both, whether you mean to be or not. There’s only one way to come out of this alive, you have to let go so that the subtle pushing and pulling away of childhood into adolescence doesn’t kill you both.
That’s what happened to me over Thanksgiving. While I was all consumed with giving thanks for my blessings, that are my girls. They were running directly for independence. My heart grew with pride and burst with love and there I lay dead, as they walked on oblivious to the damage their growing up had done in its wake.
READ MORE: The Hardest Part is Letting Go
We’re all learning. I’m learning to be me without them and they’re learning to be them with me… at a close distance. We’re all discovering ourselves. But it’s hard. I’ve been holding on so tight for so long that I believe my knuckles are permanently stuck in the grasping position. I’ll admit that I have a death grip on their childhood and I don’t care who knows it.
I’m not who I was before them and they’ve never been who they’ll become, without me. We’re growing together in every sense of the word except in respect to actual physical space. They’re growing up and that is a slow metamorphosis away and apart from me. It’s painful, this separation of mother and child. It hurts worse than birth. Birth is quick and dirty but growing up is slow and beautiful while being equal parts of the misery of letting go.
READ MORE: What Giving Birth Feels Like
The symbiotic relationship that you thought always would be, gives way to something strange and beautiful; something deeper and more meaningful than you ever could have imagined. That is motherhood in a nutshell; a love so big and unconditional that it is all-encompassing but the entire point is to love so hard that you can put truly good humans out into the world. Eventually, you have to release them into the wild and trust in all the love you’ve given up until that time to sustain them.
On our most recent travels, the girls wanted to do stuff “on their own”. Not completely, just 10-15 feet ahead of us. It was hard for me to let go, even just those 15 feet because we weren’t part of the air the other breathed. As any mother knows, 15-feet can be a completely different experience. Those 5 yards can feel like a world away.
But then I found myself stepping away in a different direction from them and it felt amazing. Surrounding myself with other adults felt freeing in a way that I haven’t allowed myself to feel since becoming a mom. Not only do I rarely spend time with just other adults, I seldom get to spend time with just the Big Guy. Yet, at that moment, as fate and a stomach ache would have it, the Big Guy and I sat at our hotel’s bar laughing, talking and having drinks with our couple friends while our girls stayed back in the hotel room laughing, talking and making TikToks. Then, I immediately felt guilty.
But there was no need for guilt. This is just our new normal. They are old enough to stay alone for an hour or two in our hotel room. We are entitled to a couple of hours of just being adults. We are all entitled to exist in the world with some autonomy and outside the family bubble, without guilt. As much as we are a family unit, we are individuals with independent wants, needs, hopes and dreams. And for as much as I want us to all to be together to celebrate those moments together, it won’t always be possible.
One day, we will be living separate lives in different houses and in different places orbiting in one another’s peripheral but today, I will embrace those 15-feet apart that feels like a different world. I’ll take joy in the fact that I can still see them, hear them laugh and get the frequent, random hugs and, “I love you mom”s that maybe I take for granted now. Because next time, they won’t need me.