My kids are getting older. I would like to forbid them getting older, but I can't (besides it would make me look like a crazy old cat woman). Intellectually I know that they need space to grow. They need to get hurt, both physically and emotionally to grow. They need to make mistakes and get dirty. I know all of this, but it does not make it any easier for me to let them go. The world is a bad and scary place full of lots of "what ifs". What if there is some pervert walking the streets and he targets my kids? What if there is a drunk driver, and he hurts or worse kills my kids? What if, what if? What if I swallowed my enormous growing fear, and put on a brave face and allowed my children to explore their world?
My Gracie is a late bloomer in the bike riding game. She has had numerous surgeries on her leg to correct the damage done in a car accident 8 years ago. It seemed like every summer when we were going to teach her how to ride her bike she would either have a surgery to correct her damaged leg, or break a bone in her leg. Not only was she always in a cast and or stitches, she knew pain intimately. She knew that broken bones and surgery hurt. She is a smart girl, and her fear of pain overwhelmed her desire to learn to ride a bike. She was a child of fear. We tried to encourage her, to tell her that it's better to get hurt trying than to never try, but they were just words. The other part of that is that I'm not sure she believed me. My mouth told her that you had to go out there and grab the world, but my body wanted to pull her into me tightly and save her from every single little hurt that life would throw her way. She had already lived though more than a child of her age should ever have to endure. I gave her mixed messages.
Last summer Gracie mastered the art of riding. Christopher had spent what seemed like hundreds of hours running along side that bike. His posture was beginning to resemble The Hunch Back of Notre Dame. He would grab her bike as it teetered saving her. She was ready to hit the road. She had mastered the mechanics but had not mastered her fear of falling. She knew how to ride a bike now, but her fear of falling, her fear of pain robbed her of her desire.
This week Gracie was invited to her friend's trailer for the night. She came home and excitedly told us about all of the fun things that they had done. One of those really fun things was riding bikes around the trailer park. "Man my butt hurt". She said with a proud smile. She had ridden, and she had not fallen off, maybe bike riding could be fun?
Tonight as I was just finishing making dinner, Christopher came to ask me if he had time to take Riley for a bike ride. Riley is our thrill seeker. She is the one who has a heart defect and the one who most likes to push her limits. She loves riding her bike! "If you're 20 minutes or less." I told him as I stuck the fork into my boiling new potatoes. As more of an after thought I suggested "Why don't you ask Grace if she wants to go?" He walked over to the stairs and shouted up. She did want to ride. The three of them went off to ride for 20 minutes while dinner finished. They came back in and Grace had this huge grin on her face, joy shining through every part of her. "Can we go out and ride again after dinner?" I may have stumbled back a little. "Sure". "If you are really careful you and Riley could ride your bikes to the end of the street, the 'big' street." The words were choking me, but I knew that it was time to let my baby birds attempt to fly. I knew that I had suffocated them for long enough, I had to let them have some space or I would stunt their growth.
After dinner the two girls suited up, helmets tightly on their heads. Gracie's face was radiant with excitement, Riley looked a little nervous. Off they drove down the road, away from my protective force field. I fought the urge to run after them shouting "I've changed my mind. I've changed my mind!" I had to let them have this space, intellectually I knew it, but emotionally it was killing me. They are smart girls. They know the rules of the road. I kept telling myself this, but all the while panic wanted to suffocate me. This is the long week-end, what if there's too much traffic on the road? What if there is a drunk driver? What if some pervert tries to lure them into his house or van? Deep cleansing breaths, give them space, let them learn to fly. "How long have they been gone?" It seemed like a long time. What if they had run into some trouble? What if one of them had fallen off their bike and was hurt, crying for me? They did not travel far away in terms of distance, but that's a very long way if you're hurt (I know from personal experience). I sat on the front steps straining to catch sight of my babies, fear clawing it's way into my chest. Finally I could not take it, I told Christopher I was just going to drive down the road and see if I could see them. He gave me that indulgent look (you know that look that says you are suffocating them, but I know you will tear my head off if I tell you that).
I drove down the road, frightened of seeing my babies crumpled at the side of the road, or worse yet not find them at all. I drove down as far as the library and then I spotted them. Gracie was euphoric, Riley looked like she was riding her bike. I turned around in the library parking lot. The two girls were sitting stopped on their bikes watching me inquisitively. I rolled down the window and yelled out sheepishly "I was just checking on you." Riley looked disgusted, Gracie looked thrilled "Have we been gone that long?" the look on her face was hoping that she had. I now felt stupid "No you have not really been that long......" I spit out like verbal diarrhea "As you were". I then drove down the road headed back for home, feeling both proud and stupid at the same time.
I parked the car and took my position on the front steps, no longer filled with fear, but now pride. Christopher came to join me, the two of us watching for our little adventurers. I sat with this really stupid grin, a tear in my eye as I watched the two of them riding back into my protective force field. They were filled with joy, great limitless pride. They had done something scary and had loved it. They rode up and down our small street and then turning up into the school lane way that meets our street. They rode streaming euphoria and pride. Elly soon joined them on her little tricycle, Rowan put his helmet on and rode his razor scooter. Dusk fell as my four baby birds flew. Christopher and I just sat watching them filled with love. It was one of those rare fleeting moments when everything in the world is just right. I have learned to stay in that moment and appreciate it for the gift that it is, because those moments are beautiful and fleeting.