Holding my breath and letting go
My latest Life Lines column, running in the current issue of Catholic New York:
Fourteen years ago this month, I wrote my very first Life Lines column. It focused on my then-4-year-old son, Noah, and a summer nature program we had attended together and how in his own little way Noah was forcing me out of my comfort zone and teaching me new things about myself and the world around me.
This is what I wrote back then:
“Fish net in hand, Noah waded into the water without hesitation and caught a frog within seconds. After gently placing it in the appointed green bucket, he bounded off toward a small waterfall, slipping and sliding the whole way, wet up to his armpits—although the water was only ankle deep.
“I, on the other hand, was doing my best impersonation of a nature lover. I tentatively stepped from one wobbly stone to another, hoping to make it though the morning without putting my foot down into the murky unknown. Then Noah called out to me, in awe of some minnows that had just flashed by his leg. ‘Let’s turn over a rock,’ he said. I held my breath and stepped off my dry perch. As I bent down to help Noah move a rock aside, a bright green frog darted out and Noah squealed with delight. Before I knew it, we were both racing down the stream, water splashing around us and mud sticking to our legs.
“It’s amazing to me how my kids always seem to give me the mental shove I need when I’ve been standing in the same place for too long.”
I dug that column out of a storage bin under my bed when it came time to write this month’s column because I knew in some odd way the two were tied together. Noah, now 18, is still pushing me out of my comfort zone in all the best ways. Not that my girls don’t do the same, but Noah, my first-born, has a special knack for making me face new unknowns before I think I’m ready.
When I wrote that first column, the unknowns were wrapped up in new-mom worries about whether I was doing everything I should be doing to keep him healthy and hitting all the appropriate milestones along the way. Organic snacks and limited screen time, daily crafts and constant reading. And I remember moms of older children telling me that, despite how it felt at the time, I was in the easy years of parenthood. The teenage years would be much harder, they warned. And now, with the first of three children on the brink of young adulthood, I know what they mean.
As Noah headed off to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, I fought back tears, not because I don’t want him to be out on his own and away from home but because for the first time in my life as a parent I am no longer the one at the controls. (I realize I’m never really the one at the controls, but that’s a column for another day.)
Talk about taking a step off my safe little island into the murky unknown. Even as I sit here writing this column, I can feel the tears starting to well up as I begin to run through a mental list of all the possible “What ifs…” Noah might encounter without me around to grab onto him—literally and figuratively—and pull him back to safety.
And yet I know there are so many rocks for him to turn over, so many wonderful surprises waiting for him just out of sight, only this time I won’t get to splash through the stream alongside him. I’ll be watching from afar, wistful and a little nervous but proud and excited, knowing that every small step we took together throughout his childhood has led to the giant leap he takes into young adulthood today.