My back hurt from hunching over to secure the bike. It was my second evening, running back and forth along the road with my five-year-old daughter, and it was the most exercise I had gotten all summer. I wiped the sweat off my head with the back of my hand, and begged to take a break. “Run with me, mommy!” she pleaded, and, after a moment of catching my breath, I geared up for another lap.
“Don’t let go!” she squealed, and I didn’t, because I sensed her instability. She wasn’t ready, not even close, but I didn’t want to crush her dream of riding a two-wheeler when she seemed so driven. And so I ran.
As she pedaled, she seemed to take flight, her cat-eared helmet cutting through the wind, and she transformed in front of my eyes as her confidence grew, her muscles developed, her eyes squinting against the wind. I began to sense some security and experimented with letting go of the handlebars for brief moments. She would scream and giggle in a mixture of fear and excitement, but I had to show her that she was gaining balance, to prove what she couldn’t necessarily see. “You’re doing it!” I called over the thumping of my feet on the pavement. “You’re doing it!”
By the third day she was mostly on her own, but I hovered, momentarily that helicopter parent, still afraid to let go. I know that when she gets hurt, she feels the pain deeply, panicking from seeing a dot of red from a scrape, cut, or a little leftover paint, and I wanted to shelter her from that. As I ran and released her, watching the bike cruise, albeit a little wobbly, I felt pride and happiness, both in her, for mastering this skill, and in myself, for knowing when to let go. Dismounting her bike for the night, she seemed changed, older, and a little bit sharper, able to navigate beyond my motherly embrace.
This week my baby also learned to walk. He grabbed my hand, and I slipped out my fingers, one by one, until only a single finger remained. And then, when I sensed he was stable on his feet, we parted ways. I stood still as he took those first cautious steps into the world beyond, joining the ranks of toddlers and children, while I had his back.
Every day, going off to camp or school, we escort our children, and send them off. This is a pattern of life, what it means to be a parent, the cycle of holding on, and letting go, of setting them down on a straight road with strength and the knowledge of how to strike a balance, and how to keep going, regardless of the terrain.
Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be read at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com. She can be reached at [email protected]
By Sarah Abenaim