On Waiting and Letting Go

By Catherine DiMercurio

I woke on Sunday morning to the sound of raindrops pelting the window and the scrape of an ice-laden tree branch on the roof above my bedroom. All I wanted to do was pull the covers back over my head and ignore the worries about falling branches and icy roads. I braced myself for what was coming next—the assessment of whether it would be safe for my daughter to make the trip to Ann Arbor that she had planned for the day. And I knew that I had to let her decide for herself.

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My son woke up not long after I did. We drank our coffee and darted from window to window, noting the way the cars, fences, and tree branches were slicked with a layer of ice. The temperature hovered just about the freezing mark and it was unclear whether the pouring rain hitting the ice was building up another layer, or was melting it. The roads looked wet. A couple of limbs creaked free from tree trunks and crashed to the ground, the fine coating of ice shattering from the smaller branches, studded with leaf buds.

Risk Assessment

When my daughter woke up and I asked if I was still going to let her go, I avoided the question. I watched her retrace my steps window to window, taking in the same factors I had. On our phones we sought reports on social media from people who might have braved the roads already. We listened to the weatherman say that despite the rain, the roads could still by icy. My daughter suggests that she head out anyway, saying if things seem bad, she’ll turn around and come home. I know from experience that sometimes things don’t seem bad until you are already on the highway and the conditions are fine until they aren’t and you have to decide which is safer—proceeding to your destination or heading back the way you came.

I can’t decide if this is high-stakes parenting or not. Is her life at risk any more than any other time she gets behind the wheel, any more than mine is each time I brave a morning commute? Maybe it’s fine. Maybe it won’t get icier the closer she gets to Ann Arbor. Maybe some spots will be bad and doesn’t she have to learn to negotiate the conditions anyway?

It isn’t a stand-off we have at the front door with her making a plea to go and me deciding in that heartbeat whether to allow or forbid. We’ve had those before and this isn’t like that. I’m looking at an eighteen-year-old young woman who claims her readiness to handle changing conditions, and she’s looking at someone with a little more experience and some reasonable concerns about her safety. Significantly, I can tell she sees and respects this. “Be careful. Text me when you get there,” I say.

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Knowing that she made it there and back safely, that she was fine, in a way makes me feel that my heightened worrying was unnecessary. But I know the significance of the moment at the doorway, when we weren’t really sure how bad the conditions were, when she wondered if I would to forbid her to go, and when I didn’t.

As I waited for her text, I had the sense that I’d probably done the right thing. I had to let her make the decision on her own, when the consequences could be significant—I see in my head the car accident on the icy highway, the one that doesn’t happen, the semi unable to stop—because she’s going to have to make decisions like that again and again when she leaves home in the fall to attend college. I know all the decision-making we’d negotiated to this point, whether through careful conversations or door-slamming shouting matches, all brought us to this point. And I know this hasn’t been the first high-stakes moment.

Self-Aware Parenting

The difference this time is that I’m aware, in the moment, that I’m surrendering the decision-making, that it is a conscious, willful act of love and trust. As parents our entire existence is predicated on the notion that we are preparing our children to not need us. It’s all part of the longest goodbye ever, from the moment they begin to crawl.

Just the day before, I’d been in the car with my son, who will be sixteen in a month. He’s trying to get enough hours in to take the second segment of driver’s ed. It’ll be a few months before he gets his permit. It’s raining and he’s doing great, though visibility at times is lousy. Does he see that stop sign? Do I point it out? The micro decision-making is just as hard as the macro decision-making. It’s parenting inch by inch, breath by breath. Sometimes it feels like I’m falling off a cliff, waiting for a moment, an hour, or years, to see if the decision I made was the right one.

Go, Go, Go. Stop.

It sounds like I don’t give them enough credit. They are bright kids, possessing common sense along with intellectual and emotional intelligence. I do trust that. It is what allows me to say go and what keeps me from saying stop. It is the comfort I take in the waiting. At the same time, I know what the stakes are, large and small.

I’ve always erred on the side of being overprotective. It’s the way I’m wired. It takes intentional self-awareness to step out of this habit sometimes. My thinking is that I want the kids to leave our home having known what it feels like to be nurtured and cared for, but also having learned how to nurture and care for themselves. I’ll always wonder if I’ve gotten the balance right, and I’ll probably wait years to find the answer. It can be confusing, parenting during transitions like these, as your kids enter adulthood. It’s like being caught between seasons, a tree in full bud suddenly coated in April ice.

Enjoy the road. Love, Cath

 

 

Learning from Memory: The Parable of the Kite

By Catherine DiMercurio

As a mother, I find myself coming back to the lessons my own parents taught me. Rarely though do these lessons filter through my consciousness in verbal form. Rather, some memories return repeatedly enough that I wonder, why this, why now?

A Father-Daughter Moment

Sometimes the memories are so strong and come from so far back in my childhood I feel as though I made them up, and they take on the power of parable in my mind. One of my earliest memories is of flying a kite with my father. I always thought that one of the reasons this memory was so striking was that it was just the two of us. I have two older sisters, a younger brother, and a younger sister, so most of my childhood memories involve some combination of siblings. My mother features prominently as well in most of those memories. She was more involved in the particulars of our day-to-day lives than my father was and it is easy to recall things like the day we went strawberry picking and had strawberry shortcake for dinner, or the time my sisters and I all had chicken pox and we got to eat on t.v. trays in our beds. There are lessons in here as well about the different ways we nurture one another. But, the memory of kite flying with my father stands out, in part, because it is an anomaly. We simply didn’t have many one-on-one moments.

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Running with the Wind

I remember standing in a muddy field on a grey day. I can see big clumps of soil and puddled rainwater. I don’t know if it was spring or fall but certainly it was chilly and damp. I was running along side my father, who gripped the white kite string, waiting for the kite to catch on the wind. He slowed, and handed me the spool of string, and showed me how to hold it. I remember my father telling me, “Cath, don’t let go!” I kept running. The wind slacked and the kite dipped. “Keep going,” he shouted. And I ran. I felt the tug of the kite at the end of the string as the wind buoyed it once again and my heart lurched with joy. And somehow, I let go. My father sprinted after the string, splashing through mud, trying to catch it. That’s where the memory ends for me. I never knew if he caught it. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to ask my dad about this sooner. Maybe I was afraid he wouldn’t remember, or that it never even happened and it was really only a dream. But this past Sunday, I asked him. And he remembered. He recalled the same details, the muddy field, and me letting go. As it turns out, he caught the runaway kite, though given that I never retained that portion of the memory, clearly it wasn’t the important part for me. He seemed pleased, remembering. He told me it was in the field behind our house, where we lived when I was about five.

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The Meaning of the Memory

Years later, I find myself drawn in my writing to kite metaphors. In a scene in which a thirteen-year-old girl experiences her first kiss and is developing feelings for a boy for the first time, I wrote: “Nora thought of the way Ben’s fingers curved around hers, wondered what her fingers thought as they leaned against his knobby knuckles. It was a relief to be here, connected to Ben. She felt like a kite on a string, and she felt like the string, too, safe within his grasp, yet soaring above him. At home, she drifted around everyone, but never felt anchored.”

For years, I thought that this was the ideal, to feel as though we are both kite and string, to feel both grounded and free. I think I’ve looked for this in my adult relationships, never realizing until now that I’ve been trying to replicate that feeling I had as a child, of being both safe and buoyantly free, the string securely held, the kite catching in the wind. And in the past few days, maybe simply because I talked with my father about the memory, I’ve realized something else: As a parent, this is what I’ve tried to create for my children—a sense that they are secure and safe and taken care of, and at the same time, that they are free to be who they are, to explore what are always becoming, that there is always possibility and joy, hope and freedom. It was what my parents tried to do for me and for my siblings. And because there was such a foundational sense of peace in that upbringing, not only did I try and create it for my own children, I also sought it elsewhere, perhaps where I didn’t need to. Perhaps even, where I shouldn’t have, that is, I looked everywhere else but within myself.

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I realize now that it is something I needed to be cultivating within myself all along. Perhaps it was only after my marriage ended, and after I tried to resurrect a relationship from the past, that I was able to finally begin to seek that sense of peace within myself. And in many ways, I have found it. Some days I might have to look harder than others, but now I know what I’m looking for. I know how to be the kite. I know how to be the string. Though I might feel untethered at times, I know the way back to myself. Though some days I can’t find the breeze, and can’t feel that joyful buoyant freedom, on other days I know I can get there. I know how to wait and when to run and how let joy take hold.

Listening and Learning

Perhaps learning this lesson is one of the reasons that the relationship I’m in now feels so stable and calm and exhilarating. It isn’t because I found someone who makes me feel like kite and string. It is because I am not looking for him to do that. I am free of the expectation that someone else will make me feel the way I want to feel. I entered into the relationship with a greater sense of wholeness than I ever had before, and with the knowledge that I am already enough. I can run fast enough and hold on securely enough to usually keep the kite in the air. And if I trip, or the wind dies down, I know how to fly, and that I can try again, in another moment or another day. Because he is in the same place, we are able to enjoy security and freedom, stability and joy, together, side by side.

The best part of all this is that we intuit these lessons even when we can’t always articulate what we’ve learned. I don’t think my father had a list of things he wanted to make sure he taught me before I left home. He and my mother were guided by their own experiences and did the best they could, as we all do. Sometimes, as we are running along, trying to hold on to the string and keep the kite in the air, we simply have to listen, to pay attention to the memories that bubble up within us and ask, why this, why now?

Enjoy the road. Love, Cath