Et tu, Brute? Learning to Let Go by Maria DiGiorgio
It may feel like a small betrayal every time your child takes a step away from you (first day your child resists nursery pickup, anyone?). This Long Island mom of a high school freshman is (still) learning to let go.
It’s amazing to think that with each metaphorical step we take in life, we are letting go of something: letting go of fear, of restraint, of self-doubt, of inhibition, of our comfort zones, and on and on. On a personal level, this can be so liberating. We feel empowered to follow our instincts, our natural inclinations. Although there may be trepidation leading up to whatever “steps” or milestones we are looking to embark upon, once we have given ourselves permission to do so, the fear and the doubt almost always subsides, and this is how we continue to build confidence in meeting the new and ever-present experiences life holds for each one of us.
While this makes perfect sense for us, on a cognitive and social-emotional level, it becomes a lot of hogwash when it comes to our children. As any parent will tell you, understanding the concept of letting go—of giving your child the freedom to grow, bloom, move forward (and out of your reach)—and actually putting it into play are two very different things. We may want to be “textbook” in our parenting approaches, but a little thing called emotion somehow always steps in the way. Notice, I did not say “gets” in the way…
When the time came for my daughter to attend preschool, she was excited and eager, albeit preoccupied. What would it be like? Would she like her teachers? Would she mix well with the other children? And how would it feel to be separated from her constant companion, me? I had the very same thoughts and feelings—my preoccupation, though, settled upon how I would feel without my constant companion, my child.
I remember the first day like it was yesterday. She looked so adorable in her new outfit and shoes. She was mostly excited; cautiously optimistic too. I, myself, did not look nearly as darling; I had barely slept a wink the night before, and my smile continually verged upon a tight clench as I gritted my teeth in wary anticipation. When we arrived at the school, I was relieved to see that parents were being given some time to stay and help our kids acclimate to their new surroundings. My new student seemed fine when I left, off to the local library to journal away my own mixed bag of feelings on this day, momentous for us both.
Finally, happy hour! When the clock finally indicated that I could head back, scoop my daughter up in my arms, and carry her back to our home, I couldn’t have been happier. I was curious to hear all about her day—to hear her tell me every detail as she wrapped her tiny arms around my neck and held me for dear life! Of course, my imagined reunion was not quite this Hallmark moment: I approached the fence, where I spied the gathered children—all smiles, full of chatter, on the tiny playground equipment. My heart did a wonderfully sincere-if-cliché flip the moment I spotted her, and I could not get my words out fast enough: “Mommy is here!”
Then my little girl, who had taken such a giant leap only hours before, turned to me and asked: “Can I stay a little longer?” Et tu, Brute? How could this be happening?
Fast-forward two years, now kindergarten. Ours is a full-day district (my then dramatic response: like a knife in my chest). Lest you think I had gotten better with the notion of letting go, think again. I found myself calling private schools to inquire if they had half-day programs. Home schooling became a remote possibility. The idea of moving actually did cross my mind. Finally, at my 5-year-old daughter’s insistence, it was declared that she would, indeed, remain in the house we currently brought her home to and attend full-day kindergarten. For her, this was merely destiny; for me, it was misery.
My daughter has unwittingly mastered the art of persuasion. She possesses wonderful communication skills, eloquently expressing her thoughts and effectively making every effort to enforce her ideas. In kindergarten, she announced that she would master the monkey bars, and soon was completing the entire run with dogged determination. As a young teen, she chooses to maintain an especially rigorous course load of advanced classes in spite of her parents’ encouragement to not sacrifice her peace of mind as she strives to fulfill her potential—and, true to herself, she continues to succeed. She has very strong convictions, and when she’s made up her mind, there’s very little chance of changing it. My mother, her adoring grandmother, always touts this ability as a strength that will bode her well in life. Et tu, Brute? Such a strong will no doubt proves helpful if one wants to be the next Madeline Albright, a UN peacekeeper, or even a night guard at Guantanamo Bay. But when it’s an inherent trait in the child you are parenting and hoping to influence? Well, not so much.
The final denouement came when we received her bus pass. Bus pass? We lived just down the road! Whose idea was this, anyway? We’re not talking a mini-bus—you know, the cute, pint-sized buses children tend to be escorted on? No, this was the real deal. Not only did the district offer a full-day program, it also sent a full-size bus to carry my little girl to school in. This time, I had recurring thoughts of “skitching” on the back of it. These, too, began to fade as my child became more and more excited and I (slowly) began to realize that letting go was exactly the right thing to do. Children need to have the proper supports in place, so that they can move forward and experience all that life has to offer; when we come to the understanding that both parent and child are learning to trust—themselves, one another, and their path in life—the bond that we were so terrified of weakening or even breaking becomes stronger, still.
As we approach yet another milestone in my daughter’s beautiful, young life—high school!—I will once again hold fast to the truth that my child is headed where she needs to be. The first time she gets behind the wheel of a car, has her first serious relationship, or makes a decision about where she’d like to attend college, my daughter’s dogged determination will, once again, force me to rise to the occasion. I will have to rely on the trust we’ve been building all along. In letting go, we are both learning to live more fully.