I’ve been hearing my mother’s voice:
You raise them to be independent, then you’re heartbroken when they are.
That pretty much sums up the experience of parenting. From the moment they’re born we know our job is to raise them up to set them free. I do a pretty good job of locking that reality into a corner of my brain on most days, but the bittersweetness washes over me at every milestone: first word, first step, first sitter, first sleepover, first day of school, first overnight camp, first philosophical response to a great disappointment, first crush, first period, first job . . .
This summer has been one full of little milestones for me.
It brought a lump to my throat when the monorail ticket seller doubted my 12-year-old still qualified for the youth fare.
I had to pull over to the side of the road to collect myself after dropping her off at her first babysitting gig.
I felt a strange combination of protective outrage and parental pride when I caught young men ogling her and her friends as they walked ahead of me on the sidewalks of downtown Seattle.
And I don’t know how to describe the experience of standing at poolside last week as all these little girls I’d known since kindergarten unselfconsciously striped down to their swimsuits to reveal bodies well on their way to becoming those of young women. I turned to a mother who was dropping off her son and said, “These are the luckiest boys in the world.” I chuckled casually, but if she was listening carefully I’m sure she would have heard echoes of the abyss in my voice.
Like all the parents who’ve ever loved their children, I know I’ll regain the solid ground of remembering that this is just part of the job. The emotions are real and complex, and they’ll never go away. They’ll just wait there in the corner I’ve pushed them into, ready to emerge at the next milestone to stop up my throat and push tears into my eyes.