Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Learning to let go.

The first time my parents visited after Liam was born, my dad couldn't stop talking about what a great neighborhood we had for raising kids. "What a cool place for my grandson to grow up. You've got the park and all these great alleys...I can't wait for him to learn to ride a bike!"

I was like, "Dude. Are you insane? I mean, I don't want to freak you out or anything but this neighborhood is not exactly Leave it to Beaver-ville. It's cute, sure, but it's urban. Haven't you heard the random gunshots? Or met our neighborhood crack whore? You can't seriously think I'm going to teach this precious baby to ride a bike and then just send him off down the alley all by himself. Can you?!"

"You worry too much."

I'm sure it's exactly what I used to tell him when he and my mom wouldn't let me walk to the park in our neighborhood by myself. I couldn't believe they wanted to come with me. I swear I was the only loser at the playground with my parents hanging around. So uncool...

Eventually, of course, they let me go to the park and my friends' houses and on hikes and adventures and I was pretty much free to go wherever my bike could take me.

Which now? Seems insane. And sort of...impressive. How in the world did they ever let me go?

I'm guessing they must have trusted me and themselves and the general goodness of the world enough to see that the potential benefits outweighed the potential risks.

Or maybe they just casually yelled out to me that if I wanted to keep going around the block alone, it was okay.

That's how we did it. Last week we left the house together, Finn on his little push bike (for like 30 seconds before he made me carry it), Liam on his Razor, and Penny on her leash, but after a few houses of Finn moving slower than Christmas, I started to feel bad for Liam having to wait and yelled out, "Hey bud! If you want to keep going all the way around the block, you can. If you're comfortable with it, so am I!"

Well, of course he said yes, and for a second there I felt really proud of both of us. I could see his confidence as he kicked and pushed farther and farther away from me. He didn't turn back once. Not even when he got to the corner which was the farthest he'd ever been allowed to go by himself before. As soon as he turned and I could no longer see him I thought, "Oh my God. What have I done..."

Just as a bit of panic was beginning to take hold, one of our neighbors pulled up and said, "I just saw your son - he looks so proud!" I took a deep breath and reminded myself he could do this. We both could! We've been around the block a thousand times and he's been navigating everywhere we go for at least a year and our neighborhood is much safer than it used to be. It's not like I dropped him off on the freeway to play in traffic. It's just once around the block... 

Still. It was probably less than a minute before I decided I had had enough waiting and turned around to head home (we were still only half way down our block). 

I knew once I saw him, I'd kick myself for second guessing this whole thing. But Bill was working from home and would probably not be okay with this abrupt loosening of the apron strings. Would it be the worst thing in the world if I happened to intercept Liam before he ran into the house boasting about his adventure?

But as I got closer to our house, I actually started to get nervous. And it wasn't just because I knew my husband was going to be mad. What if something...happened?  

I could not wait to lay eyes on that child!

Finn was taking his sweet time so I ran ahead briefly to see if I could see Liam. I could tell right away he wasn't in the front yard. I thought he might have still been making his way around the block so I  peered around the corner. No sign. I quickly checked the porch but his scooter wasn't there. Dammit. Finn was taking forever. "Baby, come ON!" I yelled. "I need to find Liam!" I was starting to sound a little crazy. I couldn't wait any longer. I left Finn on the sidewalk and ran into the house yelling, "Liam! Liam! Are you here?!"

"Uh, yeah," he said laughing. "I'm right here talking to Dada."

Bill was giving the The Look. "Yeah, he's telling me all about his adventure...about the guy he stopped to talk to..."


I was so glad to see my baby I didn't even care that I was in trouble. I ran out to grab Finn and then came back in the house to hear all about Liam's Big Adventure.

It was...epic.

He said he had never felt so free. And that when he looked up and saw the moon (it wasn't the middle of the night or anything...just evening...early evening) it looked different. Bigger somehow. He said he had never seen it look so beautiful. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah, just get to the part about the guy!

Well. He "ran into" a guy (not literally) and stopped to talk for a bit. The guy asked him things like, "What's your name?" and "Where are your parents?" and "Is that your Mama walking by with that baby?" (Nope, that's just some mom witnessing a lone seven year old and a creepy old man having a little chat while she WALKS ON BY...so much for the village.) You know, just all the nightmarish things you never want your seven year old to tell you after his very first solo trip around the block. Bill was doing his best not to freak Liam out but if looks could kill, I would so not be writing this right now.

I know it sounds bad. And it was definitely not ideal. But it wasn't terrible. I know exactly who the guy was that Liam stopped to talk to. And while I wish Liam would have just said hi (or nothing!) and kept on scooting, I know for certain that their little exchange was harmless. And it's a good thing, too. Because now that Liam's had a small taste of freedom, there's no way he's going to give it up without a fight. 

But we have a few more things to address before that happens again. Because trusting my child and myself and the greater good in the world is all fine and good but there's nothing like a few specific ground rules to set a parent's heart at ease. Although I think the easy days might be behind us. The letting go is the hardest.

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