She grips the handlebars as I grip the back of the seat.
“I can do it, Mommy! Let go!” she insists.
I must have been helping too much, I decide. She doesn’t understand how dangerous it is and how badly she may get hurt when she falls. I loosen my grip some and let her side-to-side swerves get bigger and wilder, and she stops more often, catching herself from falling. My back is hurting from hunching over through the practicing. She is determined.
I finally realize that maybe it’s not her who’s not ready; it’s me. She is ready to try. She may crash and burn, but she will learn from that, too. I follow behind, cushioning the swerves a few more runs, then let go. It feels so wrong; I am supposed to protect her, not send her out into danger. She pedals for a bit, then sets her foot down to catch herself. I am running behind in case she doesn’t get that foot down in time. She tries again, and again, and again, each time pedaling just a short ways before losing balance. Then the most incredible thing happens: she tries again and just keeps going - one long, smooth, perfectly balanced ride. My heart is in my throat, beaming and scared for her.
She never needs my help again with bike riding, and I am in awe. It’s not that I didn’t know that this was coming, or that growing up is partly about learning how to do more things on your own. It’s that I didn’t realize motherhood, for me, would be so much about letting go, and as much as I love each new step, each gain of independence, each ear splitting smile, beaming with pride at something she’s never done before, my emotions are also rubbed raw over and over again as I let go of one more thing that she used to need me for.
With my first pregnancy, I was just glowing. I knew I would be a great mom, and I was about to get to do just that. I daydreamed about all the things I would teach my child, all the things I knew I’d enjoy doing. I am one of those people who always wanted to be a mom, so I was so happy when the wait was over. When that baby left my body at seven weeks, I was shattered. I had thought that once I was pregnant, of course I would be a mom. It took me some time to let some of the pain from that miscarriage go, and that was the beginning of my understanding that motherhood is partly about letting go.
Years later, when I nursed my toddler twins for the last time, there were tears rolling down my face. It had taken monumental perseverance through some early challenges to get them both nursing, then it became easy and wonderful and often enjoyable, and now I was saying goodbye. It felt so wrong on some level. My body could never again be all the nutrition they needed; I could never again count on this magic that had been at times the ONLY way I knew to calm down, put to sleep, comfort hurt that I knew. What now? Would I figure out what to do instead? I won’t know until I try, I thought. So after wavering for weeks, I let go, picturing through the tears all the things I’d have to let go of in their futures.
I always thought that what my girls needed most when things were not right in their world (read: earth-shattering hailstorm of emotions) was me. I thought as long as I was there, to give them hugs and kisses, talk things through, sit quietly, or whatever they needed, that that would be enough. Then one of my girls got to a stage where all my presence did during her tantrums was prolong them. They would go on and on, until I thought there was something very wrong. It turned out all she needed was some time away from me; something about me being around when she had these intense feelings was prolonging them, and when I gave her some space, she could calm down and the wave would pass. I had to let go, and accept that I couldn't fix everything.
Another big time I’ll need to let go is coming up this fall - the twins enter Kindergarten! I have loved being able to stay home with my girls through their preschool years. Since they have never gone to preschool, I think Kindergarten at first will be a bigger deal to them than most. I’ve never left them with anyone I didn’t know very well. I know they’re going to love it there, and they’re ready, but part of me is not, and is already bracing for letting them go on that first day of school.
So much of mothering is about holding on that it's hard to let go sometimes. Though I might have a lump in my throat, I know letting go at the right time is a beautiful thing that helps my girls grow.
DO YOU FEEL THE TUG BETWEEN HOLDING ON TIGHT AND LETTING GO?
P.S. If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.