Six-and-a-half years ago, just before Halloween 2009, I wrote this:
“Ruby’s only 2, so of course I’ll go with her tomorrow when she goes trick-or-treating. But I can’t imagine ever being willing to let her go alone. I know I have to, and I know I will. I’m just glad it’s not this year.
“But just because I don’t yet have to worry about letting her go out into the world alone doesn’t mean that I’m not already watching her become more independent. We were at the zoo a few weeks ago, and Ruby was climbing up the rocks at Monkey Hill. She refused to hold my hand, and so I followed her up the rocks, my hands right behind her back, ready to catch her if she stumbled. Whenever she turned to look at me, though, I pulled my hands away quickly so she wouldn’t see that they were there. This was partly because I fear the full strength of her toddler wrath, but it was also because I knew it was important for her to think she was completely independent. As we went up the rocks and down and back up and down again (and again and again), I realized slowly that I was going to be doing that, metaphorically and otherwise, for the rest of her childhood … and probably for the rest of my life. I was going to let her believe she was on her own while my hands were always hovering just behind her back, poised to save her before she slipped too far.”
Almost three years ago, I wrote this:
“Over the summer, Ruby has lost her top two teeth; learned to ride a bike without training wheels; and channeled hundreds of chicken nuggets, Toaster Strudels and plums into a serious growth spurt of at least an inch and a half. Her smile is indescribably charming, her knees are constantly scraped, and none of her pants fit – she is just so perfectly 6 that I can barely stand it. When Ruby first realized she was pedaling her pink-and-purple Huffy all by herself, the look of pride and delight on her face was amazing. But I know my daughter well enough to know that as soon as the newness of the bike qua bike wore off, she would see the larger possibilities for freedom it offered. And further, I know her well enough to know that if she is not given independence in tiny age-appropriate bite-sized portions, she will attempt to wrest away huge unwieldy chunks of independence and it will all end in tears for everyone.
“So last week, I asked her if she wanted to walk around the block by herself. Her eyes got wide. ‘By myself?’ she said. ‘Do you mean it?’
“‘Yes,’ I told her. ‘I know you’re going to want to start riding your bike around the block soon, but before I let you do that, I want to be absolutely sure that you know where the driveways are and where the pavement gets uneven. So go ahead and go if you want to. I know you’ll be careful.’
And she was off, just like that, confidently, chin up, blonde curls bouncing on her shoulders, pink shoes pushing against the hot pavement, off around the corner without so much as a look back.”
And then, just this past Tuesday, I put her on an airplane alone. She hugged me, shrugged her carry-on bag further up on her shoulder, screwed the top on her Barq’s, and walked off down the jet-bridge chatting to the flight attendant.
I watched her go and thought briefly about crying. It sort of seemed like the time to cry – my baby was leaving on a jet plane, and even though I knew precisely when she would be back again, it still made me a little melancholy.
But I got sucked into a conversation between two women flying to Atlanta for a conference, both of whom had packed tutus and wigs in their carry-ons, and by the time that discussion ended, the sadness had passed.
I’m not sad, honestly, about her growing up and becoming more independent. I’m proud of her and proud of myself as a parent.
It isn’t easy, that kind of letting go. It’s hard to go from growing her inside of me to carrying her in a sling to keeping my hands hidden behind her back while she climbs to letting her ride her bike around the block to letting her hurdle through space alone on an airplane.
But it means I am doing my job. It means she is doing hers.
And though back when she was 2, I didn’t want her to know I literally was there to catch her, I hope now that she knows that I am always, always figuratively going to be there to catch her.
Safe travels, my love. For now and for always.