I believe the universe speaks to me. At least, I believe there are times I am supposed to be learning lessons, growing from moments and situations and that the universe has a way of leading me, like a horse led to water.
Cooper has been living in another state for six months now. For six months I haven’t tucked him in – save for the few nights he has spent at home (yes, he still lets me tuck him in) – or known where he is and what he’s doing, what he ate and who he was with. Not that I always knew those things when he was home – certainly that wasn’t the case – but if I wanted to know, or thought I needed to know – I could know.
Over the past six months I have learned a lot. I have learned that he is a pretty capable kid. Not that I didn’t have that inkling – but let me tell you there is a flush of panic as you launch them on their “own” “Did I teach him enough?” – I certainly believed he was capable, but it is a thing of beauty and pleasure and pain as you watch a child who once depended on you for life itself reach forward and leave you behind.
Over the past year I have been reading and contemplating about the concept of protection. Protecting my kids, to be specific. I have read articles warning of the danger and damage of a helicopter parent – all while recognizing myself in slivers of their words. I have seen memes on social media, “Don’t mess with my kids or I will go Momma Bear Crazy on you”! Or my favorite, a comment on a thread where a parent was worrying about their son being bullied, “nobody better hurt my kid or I will go son’s of anarchy on their asses”. I have seen blog postings on how to not over parent, how to not hover, how to not steal the chance your children have of learning mastery over the world. I take long walks, a lot of walks, and I ponder these thoughts as I do.
In looking for clarification, guidance, I found myself perplexed. I see myself hovering, I see myself over teaching, I see myself turning fun times to be silly into “teachable moments” draining all the fun out of the room … all of them an effort to be sure my boys are safe. To be sure lessons are learned and I can know, really know, that they are safe.
I noticed, along with other newbie college mommas, that when my son was tucked in at school – sleeping, working out, going to class, partying, sleeping, studying, working out (in my mind there was more sleeping, working out, and going to class than partying …) I was fine. I slept “well”, I didn’t worry about him, I didn’t stay up and fret as I had in the past. Until … the kid came home for the weekend and spent a night out at MSU with buddies. I was up till 2 am when he texted (bless his heart) to tell me they were on their way home, everyone safe and accounted for. What the hell? I didn’t give two thoughts to a party on Saturday night when he was FIVE hours away from me! Now all the sudden my angst and anxiety and nervousness rolled right into my bed and parked itself where I was supposed to be sleeping.
Having him close gave me cause to feel responsible, to be certain I did what I could to avoid a bad situation, to prevent him from going the wrong way or making a shitty choice. It was about that time that Eric said to me, “If he hasn’t figured out how to keep himself safe, we have bigger problems than what he is doing with his buddies on a Saturday night.” He’s right. My kid isn’t fragile. None of them are. And none of them are young enough for me to even be able to keep them safe, and unscathed. And nor should I. The goal should not be no pain. The goal should not be no sadness and no disappointment. The goal should not be that they are never uncomfortable. Out of sadness grows joy, out of disappointment thrives resilience, out of pain grows strength. To devoid their lives of the sadness, disappointment and discomfort would rid their lives of true love, joy, and the art of being grateful.
At the root of my desire to protect my kids is of course, the desire for no harm to befall them. For them to reach a ripe old age with memories of their momma tucked into their hearts as they watch their children’s children’s children … you get the idea. I don’t want them to ever be hurt, harmed, sad, bummed out, disappointed … but do I really? If I’m honest, I don’t want those things to happen because it hurts me. It causes me anxiety and sadness. Have you heard the phrase, “A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child.” True story. I have slowly given up my reign as the safety queen of the world (well at least of my family) and am learning to enjoy my boys ability to take risks, to find adventure, to press their luck, and to find consequence. I am even reveling in watching them be uncomfortable – in watching them figure their way out of yucky situations like Hoodini. Stronger, smarter and more capable than before they sank to the bottom in a a straight jacket.
And then today …
When I received the first text from a good friend “Hey what’s going on at the high school?” … and then another and another no doubt panic set in. No doubt my comfort at having handed over my power as keeper of all things safe dribbled down the drain, right to the garbage disposal.
The high school was on lock down, with my boy inside, with thinly reported “shooters, guys with guns, suspicious activity”. WTF. WTF. That’s all I had. I texted Jacko right away – he was fine, safely tucked into the locker room in the middle of the high school. Over the next hour plus we texted every few minutes – he wasn’t worried. He wasn’t scared. He was sure it was the school being cautious, but he did know it wasn’t a drill. He knew it was real, as it was the Vice Principal who had stuck his head into the weight room declaring “Lock Down”, a normally grumpy, disciplined type (so the kids say :)), looking “pretty panicked”. He reminded me that rumors escalate quickly, that we didn’t know anything for fact. He relayed information that he heard: cops at the school, possibly bomb squad, state troopers and swat team, none of which – he reminded me – he knew for sure. He was not alone, he was locked in the weight room for dozens of dozens of minutes, and was … calm. He felt safe. I was not there, I could not help him, I could not hold him, I could not keep him safe. But he felt safe.
As it ended, we are still not sure of the details, but suffice it to say, the all clear was given, and kids were to return to class. Jack, he came home. I let him. I made him lunch, and he took a nap. I hovered by for awhile, rubbing his back and hugging him.
It’s not as if I believe the universe put a safety crisis for three schools in our district to teach me a lesson, but I am listening. My boys are not fragile. They do not need my protection, most days and in most ways. They need my love, they need my support. They need me to listen and problem solve with them. They need me to have the energy to do those things, instead of wasting energy on protecting them, an impossible job. They need me to take care of myself, they need me to rest, they need me to let them grow up.
Our babies are brought to us with the ultimate dependence. Providing sustenance, love, safety, protection, advocacy are our jobs as parents from day one. As they grow, some of those roles are easier to let go of than others … we celebrate walking and potty training, and kindergarten and tying shoes! We are excited over first sleep overs and play dates and home runs and friendships. We celebrate independence in many ways – and hoard it in others.
Today, the universe taught me (reminded me) that my son is not fragile. That he is strong and smart and savvy, that he is funny and bright and capable. Today reminded me that I am not in charge, that I can not keep them safe. It taught me to stop hoarding his independence and fearing it, but to savor and relish in it.
Thank God the kids were safe. Thank God the teachers and secretaries and administration and coaches and volunteers were alert and attentive. Thank God the police and true protectors of our little town were vigilant and trained. Thank God it was just a whisper of the fear and tragedy that some families have endured. I will listen, I will take note. I will (try) to celebrate their steps to independence as adolescents as I celebrated their first steps.
PS – I will probably fail many more times, and may for the rest of my life, on giving up protecting them … but I will try to trust their strength <3