There is something about watching a child step into adulthood that leaves you with such powerfully conflicted emotion. You stand and watch and there is nothing else you can do- just stand and watch. When your children are small everything is so much easier. Their wants and needs are so much easier to obtain for them, you can gift them so much, so easily. But then comes that stumbling foal moment where the thing they want conflicts with what you feel is best for them. But you can gently guide them back.
Then come stronger impossible things, friendships that break, the times they don’t make the team, the times where a boy breaks their heart. Over the years their view of you changes; you descend from almost godlike parent who they love with a full-bodied joy to someone worn and worn out a bit behind the time, at moments wise and at others all to fail-able and human, the point where they see you for what you are. But you try to hold on and give them the direction you can. And then one morning you wake up and you child has managed to break away almost completely and you see them running toward their own horizons, awkward but beautiful and free and all you can do is stare and thank God that you have come to the point where you can be a place of safety for them, but you know that anything you offer them has to be accepted on their terms.
This is the point where I am with my oldest. I watch her go out a little farther almost every day, turning 18, high-school graduation, job hunting, college hunting. It hurts to know that I am completely unable to help her with these things. I count myself lucky that she hasn’t picked up that tendency of some teens to emotionally abuse those closest to them – that teenage cruelty of being kind to everyone except your mom and dad on whom is heaped nothing but contempt as they realize that their parents are really just mortals. Instead she is rather patent with us as her parents. But even if she did have that rebellious streak we would still have held on this long, and at this point we would still have to let go. But then I love watching this. I love watching her go and there is nothing in the world more satisfying then the times she gets things right. It is probably the oddest feeling in the world. Some odd half remembered quote from CS Lewis about how love is taking as much joy and delight the achievements of someone else as you would if they were your own. With children that becomes a bit muddled because it can feel like their victories are your victories and their failures your failures, but neither is the truth.
It would be unfair to pile my own hopes or ambitions onto her. She is a vastly different person than I am. So I sit here and watch her step into her moment of independent youth, beautiful in the sunshine of morning and watch her in love with herself, a body too young to ache, a heart still unburdened with the worries of life and I have to step back and just watch. I remember that moment of explosive, restless, youthful passion and how much I desperately wanted to just be me – free, alive, young and loved. And I can look back at my mistakes and regrets and know that I am just as incapable of recapturing that in myself as I am incapable of reliving that time through her. I had my moment in the sun; this moment is her’s.
I love her and love watching her explode away from me into her own life. And I turn to my younger children and I know, with the utter certainty that I could never really grasp with her that they too will one day set off on their own. I am an older and wiser mother than I was with her. But I know I will make totally new mistakes with each of them. They will each come to the place where they see me too well, where they know how I have failed them. And they will take off to their own adventures, wherever God’s will will blow them. I will stand here and marvel at their beauty and hope that they always remember when they need me I am here waiting, and watching and wild horses couldn’t drag me away from them.