All too soon, the kids headed back to school today. A new year, a new round of teachers, an entire school year stretched ahead of them to learn, grow, change.
One of the kids is not heading to school today. Wolverine, believe it or not, is 20 years old and went to work today, just like he has every day for the past year or so. I wonder if he still finds it odd to get up and dress for work instead of school.
Then again, I didn’t find it strange when I was that age. I was glad to be out of school, glad to be starting college and then my first full-time job. I had no idea what a struggle it must have been for my parents, watching all of us, one by one, get older, graduate, move out, move on.
Not many people still read this blog, but if you do, maybe you are one of the people who remembers when “the kids” referred to small children, toddling about, sitting in our laps, offering up little feet for shoes to be tied, requiring our accompaniment down dark hallways if they felt spooked.
Today, Bear is a senior. Sunflower is also in high school, and Dove is starting her last year of middle school.
I am not one of those tearful, maudlin, clingy parents who wants their kids to stay small forever. I enjoy watching them grow up, learn things, take care of themselves, move into new phases of their young lives. I don’t call any of them “my baby” because they are not babies. They are intelligent young people with their own minds and their own lives in front of them.
I don’t want to hold them back, restrain them, squash them, suffocate them. I don’t want to sit on them with my own insecurities or emotions or fears. That’s not fair to them. I was allowed to grow up. Why stop them?
Sometimes, when I don’t expect it, I look at one of the kids like I am seeing them with new eyes. Instead of a little kid in front of me, I see the young adult he or she is now, and it startles me. When did that happen?
We laugh now, sharing stories, talking about when the kids were little, and I know the kids feel like that was long, long ago. In a way, it was. In another, it was just yesterday.
This school year, I know everything we do with Bear is the last time. His last prom, his last football season, his last school pictures. Not far behind him will be Sunflower, and not long after her will be Dove.
My throat tightens at that thought, I admit. I guess it’s fear of the unknown, wanting them to be happy, having little control over the steps they take next. Hoping we have taught them well, prepared them to face the world without us holding their hand.
I won’t cry at graduation, or embarrass them with tears at the last football game, or sniffle all over them as they take their first steps into adulthood. I won’t call them my babies when they deserve more respect than that. It’s been their dad’s and my job to get them ready for that day, after all, to let go of our hands and walk out that door into their own life, on their own two feet, making their own decisions.
I might cry later, though. Just a little. I might not be able to stop it once they are gone, once we are supposed to go back into our house without them and wonder what to do with their old room, their things, little pieces of them that they probably no longer want but that we won’t have the heart to get rid of.
It’s not today, but it’s coming. It won’t make it any easier to know ahead of time. I will resist the urge to wrap my arms around them tighter, cling harder, trying to make them stay kids just a little longer. They deserve to open their wings, spread them out, give them a test drive, soar on their own.
But I hope they always know that just because we let go to let them grow, just because we stepped back to let them step forward, doesn’t mean we will not always be there, one phone call away, hands ready, to steady them, hug them, hold them, then turn them loose yet again.