My 8-year-old daughter just learned to ride her bike without training wheels (a little late I know, but she’s our most stubborn child…a direct correlation, I assure you). As we’ve taken walks around the block on recent evenings, I walk behind as she rides ahead, testing her newfound freedom. As she improves, sometimes she circles me, and sometimes she rides ahead. I find myself a bit apprehensive as she disappears around the corner at the end of the block, out of my view and where I can no longer protect her. As she’s the youngest of our three children, we’ve been through this before. You gradually let them roam a little farther away each time until finally they break free, like an orbiting moon against which gravity finally loses its hold. I vaguely remember the fear that I felt as I myself broke free so many years ago, but with that fear totally overshadowed by the exhilaration of freedom. Exactly what my daughter is feeling now with her bike, an early taste of the freedom that’s coming. She loves it; I am ambivalent. It’s funny how we simultaneously want them to grow up and want them to stay our children, another example of where it is probably best we don’t get to make that choice. When our children first join us, we somehow believe we are important. And we are of course, but only as temporary caretakers. They will leave. They should leave. And as their mother, I have an equal right to be proud and to be sad.
“Growing up is never easy. You hold on to things that were. You wonder what’s to come. But that night, I think we knew it was time to let go of what had been, and look ahead to what would be. Other days. New days. Days to come. The thing is, we didn’t have to hate each other for getting older. We just had to forgive ourselves… for growing up.” –The Wonder Years (American television series)