Recently I played along with the whole Facebook Throwback Thursday thing and trotted out a very adorable pre-adolescent picture of me for everyone to “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” over.
I hadn’t seen this picture in a while. There I am, all pouty with a sassy and defiant look in my eye as I sat in my time out. A friend asked me if I remember why I was in time out and I remembered that, as a child, I was a daring little bugger: no fear and pretty defiant, as I mentioned. The world was mine and I was going to take it, even back then.
I loved to swim and learned as a baby how to turn over and swim to the side. As I got older, I would run straight for the deep end and, being tiny, sent the lifeguards into a full code-red as I would leap into the pool. Poor lifeguards had no idea this tiny-for-her-age 5 year old could swim. My parents were asked on many occasions to remind me to swim in the kiddie section. I, on the other hand, would not be caught dead with the tadpoles and their floaties.
This pool had a one of those really high diving boards and I eyed that piece of wood like a baby eyeing a binky. I saw in that diving board an opportunity to fly–for real–and no one was going to stop me. So off I went climbing the 20 or so rings on the ladder, not noticing as I reached the top that chaos and mayhem that had taken over the pool below me. Lifeguards running, people screaming and pointing, and I certainly didn’t hear my mother screaming at the top of her lungs, “Betsy, you get your butt down here right now! You’re scaring people!”
I stood at the start of the board, took a deep breath and ran for it, leaping free into the air, arms spread out like an eagle, and I flew. Words cannot even describe the feeling I experienced, flying and not caring where I would land or how, just being in that moment the totality of everything.
I did eventually hit the pool, water rushing over me as I sank to the bottom. As I landed, I could hear the roar of the crowd. Of course I’m thinking they are all cheering for me, and then the sudden silence as I entered a new dimension, feeling wrapped in the warmth of overly chlorinated, public pool water. I swam easily back to the surface, my head popping out of the water, so excited and laughing. I was immediately plucked from the pool by a lifeguard who began to yell at me and instantly destroy my moment of pure love of life. The absoluteness of no fear was thrown into judgment and shame, and I began to cry. My mother approached and took me by the arm and sat me down over by the side of the pool, in a time out. I sat there almost the whole day. Even when they tried to get me to come out I refused, glaring at the people who had stolen my dreams.
My daughter looks exactly like me. Her blond hair, her smile and especially that look of defiance in her big blue eyes when I have crushed her dream of flying, out of my own fears for her. Not only do I know that my daughter looks like me, she is just like me, too. She’s got a fire in her heart and wings and she wants to fly.
Parenting is hard and often I find myself playing out the same scenes as my childhood, only this time I’m the one saying “No” and “Because I said so,” and I realize that sometimes those answers are coming from my own place of fear.
I want to see my daughter fly and, of course, there is a part of me that wants to be there to catch her. But the truth is, she is who she is and she’s got to learn how to land in her own way, and I’ve got to learn how to listen to her heart instead of my fears.
So far in my parenting life the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is to let go and allow. My kids are still young, but this letting go happens many times in their lives, it begins when we let them go from our arms and onto the earth and it doesn’t stop, even when we grow up and take on the world.
The balance is in learning when to hold on and when to let go. I still remember that day at the pool and I do remember when my mother came to retrieve from the scared to death lifeguards grip. I remember she told me that even though I knew I could fly, there was a time and a place to spread my wings. Somehow I made it out of my childhood wings still firmly attached, but with some wisdom on when to soar and when to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
My mom lives with me now and helps me with my own kids. I can see she still wants to catch me, but I can also see that she has learned to let me execute my own landings, even when they are hard and I break something.