My brother and his wife have a little boy who turned 1 in December. He’s SO CUTE. Now, I’m in my mid-40’s, and this is my older brother, so he had kids rather late in life. Recently, he had a social media post about people criticizing his parenting style – he used to the term “helicopter”. I laughed and told him after the 2nd kid, the helicopter loses altitude and by the 3rd, it’s completely grounded.
Since that conversation, I’ve been mentally thinking about stages of parenting. It’s such a gradual thing.
When they’re born, you can’t fathom ever letting them go. You’re afraid to take a shower for fear of something happening to them in those 10 minutes you can’t see or maybe even hear them.
You take them with you into the public bathroom stall even when they’re 3 or 4 or maybe even 5.
You go with them to that first birthday party and stay the entire time, with all of the other parents watching — hovering like helicopters — while their kids learn the social graces that come with birthday parties.
They join forces with all of the other 5-year-olds in your world and start their first day of school. You stay, you hover, you worry about what they’ll do in the lunch room and if their teacher will misplace them and not realize it before something horrible happens to them and you keep your phone next to you all day, turned up loud, just in case the school calls. You know that call — the one that never came because your kid rocked the first day of school and all of the subsequent days after that one.
You don’t let them go to that first sleepover because you just don’t trust how they’ll do in the middle of the night without you — but have one at your house instead — and only half the kids invited come because their parents are just like you.
And then you let them go to the birthday party by themselves. You trust that the other parents will make sure they survive the piñata and ice cream and pray that your kid isn’t THAT KID who spills his red Kool-Aid on the white carpet and tries to steal a birthday present. You make sure that the parents know your phone number and keep your phone next to you at all times, the ringer turned up loud, waiting for the phone call that signals that your child needs YOU and only YOU. You know that call, the one that never comes, because your kid had an awesome time at that party. Even without you there, hovering.
One day, your son goes into the public bathroom alone. And he’ll never know how you hovered outside of the door, listening intently, waiting to rush into the room at the first sound of distress or stranger danger.
One day, they go to that sleepover. And, you keep your phone on loud the entire time and wait for the phone call that something horrible happened while they were out of your sight at 2AM. You know that call – the one that never came despite all of your worry about it. And your kid comes home jabbering about all of the fun she had the night before.
Eventually, the sleepovers are just a part of life. And you have a house full of kids as often as your kids are gone from the house.
You realize one afternoon that you might not know all of your kid’s friends’ parents, and wonder if that makes you a bad mom or not.
Eventually, they get their permit to learn how to drive. And you’re sitting next to them the entire time, teaching them, guiding them, knowing that one day you’ll hand them the keys and they’ll drive away all by themselves.
You wonder how you’ll do it.
And then they do. And you keep your phone on loud and close to you the whole time waiting for that phone call from the state troopers. You know that call — the one that never came despite all of your worry over it.
You have them check in with you everywhere they go. Check in when they get there, check in when they leave. Check in when they get to the next place.
Then the day comes and you wonder where your kid is. Did she have volleyball practice or work? What was her schedule this week? Then you wonder if not knowing for sure makes you a bad parent or not.
Senior year, your child will beg to go to Fort Lauderdale for Spring Break and you think of all of those wild girl videos and documentaries of the horrors experienced by teenagers in the midst of Spring Break Fever and send her instead to a beach closer to family and friends.
And then they graduate from high school. And, the next day, you put them on a plane to fly to another continent for their class trip. And the whole time you’re filling out forms and getting passports and paying fees and attending meetings with the chaperones and teachers, you’re wondering how in the world you’ll drop them at the airport with their backpacks packed and their walking shoes on. And, you do. With dozens of other parents. And you stare at each other and wonder how you just let them all go. And you all check your phones and make sure those ringers are turned on and loud.
Two weeks later, your kid comes home with a bag full of souvenirs, hungry for your cooking, and memories that can never be replaced. And you realize they’re on that cusp of not needing you all the time anymore.
Then that time will come when she’s an adult with her own apartment and job, and she pays her own way to Fort Lauderdale for spring break and you have to just anxiously watch her social media posts for any signs of anything horrible happening. And you keep your phone next to you at all times, turned up loud, waiting for that phone call from the Florida hospital. You know that call — the one that never came because your kid is smart and you’ve raised her right.
Eventually, you just let them go. You gradually quit jumping when that phone rings. You begin to trust that they’ve listened and learned and taken in all of your wisdom. And you think back to those days when they were infants and you were afraid to leave them alone for 10 minutes so that you could take a shower, when your helicopter was high above and you could observe everything all the time.
And you say to younger moms, “Take the shower. They’ll be fine.” Even though you know that you’d do it all the same again, with the same worries and the same hovering, and that painful, gradual letting go.
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