|"Letting our children go is a lifelong process for parents, one that we wrestle with again and again. Each parent has to wrestle with it in his or her own way." -Fred Rogers|
"I'm going. I have to go. I'm tall enough! PLEEEEEEEEEEASE????" Philip begged.
"Oh, honey," I cringed and looked over at the Round Up, "I don't know."
I had made up my mind the first time I saw this ride seven years prior that the people who ride it must be absolutely CRAZY. With a capital C and a capital-all-the-other-letters CRAZY. The scientist in me understands the forces at work that keep you firm and secure, but the wimp in me says, "No, thank you. I'll be over here on the carousel."
Having watched considerably more episodes of NOVA than I have, Phil's eyes were gleaming with excitement for all of the g's he was going to experience on the Round Up. My most responsible boy is also my biggest amusement park thrill-seeker. Who could have a trace of fear when the laws of physics are so consistently enforced?
I stood there stalling with my ten-year-old tugging on my arm as my mind spun around, "What happened to the rides in kiddie land? But you were terrified the first time he rode those, too, Jen. Remember? You can't hold on to him forever. You need to let him go. He wants to, he's tall enough."
But there was no way I could watch him up there alone. I gulped.
But there was no way I could watch him up there alone. I gulped.
"OK, buddy, but I'm coming with you."
Phil grinned and ran ahead of me. Instant regret filled me the moment those words came out of my mouth. Why did I say that? Now I must be the one who is absolutely crazy! I looked up at the ride- it was half full of kids, none of them over the age of 12, and it was spinning vertically as they screamed. I followed along behind Phil halfheartedly and plopped my hat and purse into the box next to the attendant. I took my place on the ride and gripped firmly to the peeling metal bars on either side of me, suspiciously eyeing the small chain in front of me, whose purpose I could hardly grasp, and wondering how old this ride actually was. Definitely old enough my parents could have ridden it as kids, which I later confirmed on wikipedia. Through my fear narrative, I took a moment to notice that the kids on either side of me were elated, most especially my Philip who couldn't stop chattering about the ride to come.
The college-aged ride attendant came over to this grown lady with white knuckles sandwiched between the tweens and gave me an encouraging smile.
"I'm 37 and I have to admit I'm a little nervous," I told him.
"You'll be just fine!" he said, as he walked around casually, balancing the ride and making sure everyone was secure.
The clank of the "on" lever, the whir of the motor, and we were off. I gripped the ride in terror, but when I glanced over the look on Phil's face was priceless. I screamed the entire time, mostly, "HOLD ON!!!" although the laws of physics were, again, consistently being enforced and the act of holding was not truly necessary. And I had to admit the view of the park from the top was pretty incredible. It was over before I knew it.
That may have been my first time on the Round Up, but it wasn't my last. After that first ride, Phil ran off and got right back on again, taking my Dad along with him. We ended up riding it a half dozen or so more times, and even brought some brothers along. And each time, I was befriended by the kids around me waiting for the ride to begin.
"I'm 8! We're here for my birthday!"
"I'm here with my aunt and uncle, they bring me here for special occasions!"
"I've been on this ride 27 times!"
"I'm a Steelers fan, but I don't even live here! Do you like the Steelers?"
You know, for a seemingly terrifying ride, it was actually pretty friendly. I made lots of new pint-sized friends. I also learned after the first time that if you just focused on the center of the ride, it was way less dizzying. And Phil's joy and pride in this new milestone made it all worthwhile.
As we stepped off the ride for the last time and prepared to leave the park, I couldn't help but reflect on the metaphor the whole experience on the Round Up had for my life as a parent.
Daunting. At times terrifying. The overwhelming urge to hold on. White knuckles. Intermittent screaming. Nausea. The conflicting feeling that things are over too fast and not over fast enough.
Fun. Full of pint-sized friends. Thrilling. Lots of laughter. New views and perspectives. Worth doing multiple times. Different than I expected, yet way better in surprising ways- especially if one can stay focused on the Center.
I've been reflecting on this more during my boys' fourth grade year. Philip and Daniel are crossing that bridge from "little boys" to "young men." and I am watching it unfold before my eyes. I have the overwhelming urge to hold on some days, while at the same time knowing that the whole point of parenting is letting go. My head knows that I can't cling to them forever, but my heart aches in the letting go. How could so many of those little days when they were one and two, or two and three, or three and four, have gone so painfully sloooooowwwwwwww, while those little YEARS simply flew?
Now these ever growing nine-and-ten-year-old little men stand before me, with compassionate hearts and great senses of humor and slightly more self control in using their shirts as Kleenex and their pants as napkins than they had when they were five and six. Where did those days go? Did I do right by them? Have I done enough, invested enough in their hearts? What will their future bring, and what can I do to ensure they are ready for it?
I can take hope and comfort from the Round Up, however. There, the laws of physics are consistently enforced, beyond my own power or will to influence them.
Philip and Daniel each have a plan for their lives, beyond my own power or will to make it myself. They have a reason for being here that is beyond my mind to fully understand but has been destined since even before my time on earth. My job as their mom is to help them find God's will for their lives- I can't make it up myself, I can't force them onto the path, but I can try to help guide them there. I can be their lantern to hold, I can be their safe place to rest, but I can't walk it for them, and I can't even walk it next to them clinging with white knuckles to their arm. Darn it, because I'd really like to. It's humbling and scary but also the most liberating thought possible. They aren't "mine." They aren't even Paul's. They aren't the world's. They are God's. And he's the Center of it all- for them, and for me. He's got us.
As necessary as it seems to hold on, I need to keep telling myself that it's also going to be OK to let go.
The ride may be over fast, but the memories remain.