Years ago I gave my mom a plaque with the following words inscribed on it:
“There are two things parents give their children. One is roots and the other is wings.”
It was during my early adulthood when I needed to spread my wings and leave the nest, which was difficult for my mom. My mom was great at the roots part, but giving me wings came much harder. I didn’t totally understand that back in my twenties, but now as mother of two myself, I feel her pain.
Anna is leaving (on a jet plane) for Chicago tomorrow with my mother-in-law. They’re going to the American Girl Cafe, the Navy Pier, the aquarium, to visit cousins – it’s going to be a wonderful trip for Anna, and for her grandmother who’s looked forward to this trip for years. Yet, it is painful for me to let her go. But I will.
My instinct is to keep my daughter close, to wrap my arms around her and not let her leave my protective sight, but as much as I want to do that, I know it would be wrong. As hard as it will be tomorrow to watch her walk into the airport and away from me, not letting her go would be holding her back, handicapping her with my own fears and limiting her world – and that is something I cannot bear.
When you think about it, parenting is really a cruel irony. From the moment our babies are born we do everything in our power to bond with them. We hold them to our bare skin, sing them lullabies, comfort them when they cry, carry them in slings next to our bodies, sleep with them curled up next to us…even when they’ve become long and lanky and inevitably put their feet in our faces and on our pillows. Motherhood is like a bell-curve shaped pattern of bonding, striving day after day to build closeness and then in a brief moment it peaks as we watch them step onto the school bus and wave as the gears grind and the bus, carrying our precious child, disappears into the distance. And then begins the long gradual process of letting go.
But the memory of my own early years and yearning for those wings is still with me. Tomorrow I will give my daughter wings, even if I cry all the way back home from the airport.
Sara Ellington is the author of The Mommy Chronicles: Conversations Sharing the Comedy and Drama of Pregnancy and New Motherhood (Hay House, 2005) and The Must-Have Mom Manual (Ballantine/Random House, April 2009