Archive for November 19th, 2010

Under the Big Top

Parenthood is like a circus with two main attractions.  Yes, there are still the clowns and dogs climbing out of the little car, chasing each other around and around the ring but the two main acts are the tightrope and the trapeze.

We walk the tightrope as soon as we decide to sleep-train our babies.  Should we err on the shorter or the longer timeframe before going in to comfort them?  But that is only beginning.  The act builds and builds as the decisions become harder and harder – as we balance between being a strict disciplinarian and giving them a little freedom to learn from their mistakes, between keeping them safe and smothering them in our worries and between helping them to succeed and doing it for them.  Still, the tightrope is the buildup act.  As long as we, as parents, are the ones making the decisions, there is a safety net.  We are in control.  We can bend and move as the situation changes.

The trapeze act though, that is where the real danger lies.  The safety net is lowered.  The lights go down and the tension rises.  As we swing through the air with our child in our hands and release them at just the right moment, throwing them up, up, up into the air, where they will either soar or they will fall.  That is when our hearts pound and we realize that holding onto them was not the work.  The real work is watching them make their way forty feet above us, knowing the dangers and not snatching them back into the safety of our arms but being prepared to grab them when they fall.  Being prepared to grab them and hold them tight, reassuring them that it is okay to try again, to fail again, and then while our hearts are still broken for them, tossing them high and starting the process all over.

When my children were small I made a decision during the tightrope act to err on the side of independence.  I wanted my children to be comfortable away from me, to be able to self-correct. This meant watching them as they ran ahead on the city sidewalk where we lived, knowing I had taught them to stop at the corners and alleyways but still feeling my heart in my throat as they cut the stops just a little close.  My friends and my mother-in-law cringed at the independence I afforded them and I often doubted my decision but stuck to my guns as I watched them learn from their mistakes and make wiser and wiser decisions.

This was the beginning of our trapeze act and I felt good about our early efforts.  I had learned to let them go and fall.  I had been there to pick them up, dust them off and send them back out. But this week, when my oldest son received his driver’s license and pulled out of the driveway to head to school on his own, I faltered.  Instead of tossing him high, giving him the momentum he should have received, I lost my grip.  As he drove away, I stood in the driveway with tears streaming down my cheeks and visions of his fall in my head.  Without warning the trapeze act built to a crescendo and my child flew out of my sight, lost somewhere high above behind the light and I worried about what the fall from that height could mean.  And suddenly, I wanted that safety net back, not just for me but for him.

Parenthood is the greatest show on earth.  It comes with the highs of watching them grow and become the adults they will walk out into the world as, but that high has such a deep low.  To watch him walk away, to drive away, is the toughest thing I have had to do yet.  And still I realize that it is only the beginning.  From here there will be more and more of this soaring into the lights where I won’t always be able to catch him and I will have to trust in our years of training to get to this point.  I have to trust that he will continue to soar and self-correct.



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