Letting Go

Alex doesn’t nap much anymore. He goes to bed willingly enough, because he is tired, but he doesn’t usually go to sleep, and it’s not long before he gets bored and wants to get up again. I make him lie down for an hour, and then he can play upstairs. But he’s a very assertive young man, and he’s hard at work eroding the rules. Actually, there’s only one rule: Do Not Talk To Me While I’m Working. But he’s incapable of following it.

Erosion is my problem as well as a result of his pushing. I want to be a decisive parent who holds to her limits. But I also want to be reasonable, and this is a time of transition; we’re trying to find a new equilibrium that allows me to have “nap time” productivity even as the kids stop napping.

Anyway, Alex promised to leave me alone, so I let him go to the basement. But of course he came up and talked to me. He promised he would leave me alone and work his puzzle, but of course he wanted to share every triumph. There is nothing so discouraging when writing as having your train of thought broken every four minutes. Yet how can I gripe about my son wanting to share every part of his life with me?

Today his new idea was, “I want to go outside.” This opens up a whole new can of worms.

When I was a kid, Mom gave us a lot of time outside her direct supervision. By the time I was ten, I think, we were playing in the hay barn, in the woods, on the tractors, and in the shop. By twelve, I was riding my bike three miles to the orchard to work as a strawberry picker. At thirteen, my older sister and I were riding into town to shop, visit Grandma, and eat ice cream.

Now that I am a parent, I don’t understand how she had the guts to let us out of her sight. I puzzle over this frequently. I would love for my kids to be able to go outside and play without my presence, without me having to distract myself worrying about them. But how do you develop the placidity that allows you to let go of your children in a world where cars fly over the hill and spin out on gravel, where there is no shoulder on the county highway that leads to town…much less in a town where there are regular murders, a world in which child disappearances have become so commonplace that we have an alert system in place? We’re only talking about a ride of six houses in either direction. But what if some loon comes around the corner and snatches Alex? Yet I am resolved to avoid being a helicopter parent, and the only way to let go later in life, I think, is to begin doing it incrementally earlier. All parenthood is a slow process of letting go.

Well, I did let him go…but I only managed to work on my novel for three minutes before I had to go out on the porch and make sure he was okay. Five minutes later, I did it again, and was relieved to discover that the mother of his new friend, who lives six houses down, was outside with her kids, and that Alex had attached himself to them. But then I had to shout down the street, “IS HE BOTHERING YOU?” because of course, I still have two other kids sleeping in my house, so I can’t just run down to supervise.

That was the point at which I closed up the novel and set out to reflect on the difficulty of letting go.

And as I type, Alex walks back in. “Hey Mommy?” he says. “By the way…”