One evening, we walked by a lively band along the promenade and my 15-month-old son struggled in my arms to get down. As I set him down in front of the musicians, my son ran to the center of the open space. I stood on one side of the crowd and my husband stood on the other, watching while our delighted son played and danced, safe within the circle of our watchful attention.
Yesterday, I dropped off this same son, now 13 years old, at a nearby park where he had arranged a Nerf gun battle with a couple of his friends. I’ve always been a cautious parent – one dad claimed I took the prize as Most Protective – and so, true to form, I asked my son to call me if he and his friends were going to leave the park.
As I idled in the car at the curb, he walked up a pathway to see if the other two friends had arrived. Once he found them, my son grabbed his nylon bag full of Nerf guns, add-on modules, and ammo out of the backseat of the car, and said a quick goodbye, returning to close the car door properly when it didn’t shut all the way. He walked away and I waited, watching him until he was out of sight, then headed home, wresting with my reservations.
When I picked him up a few hours later, he told me they'd left the park to go get more Nerf weapons from one friend’s house who lives nearby. He didn’t think to call, explaining that they were just gone for a few minutes and came right back to the park.
As I drove him home, listening to his stories of the afternoon, I realized that I could no longer keep him safe in the same way I believed I could before. His world has grown too big for me to stand on one side of it with my husband on the other, keeping him safe within a semicircle of strangers.
I’m always watching my son walk away – into kindergarten, off to middle school, through doorways for lessons, classes, parties with friends. I’ve realized that the leaving doesn't happen all at once when they move out of our homes after high school; our children leave us gradually, little by little.
With each step he takes, I feel the pull of an invisible cord that connects us growing narrow and taut. It tugs at my heart, pulling it open. Getting me ready, little by little, for the next goodbye.