I’ve always maintained that parenting hit me like a brick and a cushion. A brick, because the jarring, unyielding, transformations that you go through are neither kind nor easy. And, a cushion, because there is ethereal comfort to be found in creating and sustaining a whole life beyond your own body.
That has not changed, for me. In many ways, every day feels like the brick and the cushion, all at the same time, because the little life beyond your own changes faster than you can keep up with. Even more jarringly, you have to change too.
Motherhood enabled me to centre myself, not my life. There’s a difference there, because my life as whole hasn’t always been a deeply-rooted tree. What motherhood changed within me was the ability to put down the roots and grow. Everything that came after that has been an extension of that central point. It is the thing I centre myself around, and is the ultimate motivation behind many of my choices, but it’s not the single-focus of my life. It is sewn into my character and actions, but it is not directly them. There is a difference there, and that is an item on my life list I did not expect. It is why I put the tree down, but it is not the tree.
As my child has grown up, our family has grown up. I make no apologies for making this triangle a focus point, and I have zero regrets on this. What has been interesting, however, is just how much freedom has come from doing that. As our marriage unwinds towards the future, I feel more free than I ever have before. I feel more capable and assured. I realise now, however, that I had felt those things already, but there is a deepening of it that I didn’t expect. The knowledge that our triangle is signed into law is a strange set of comforts, but also an easily visible-to-anyone-else, set of bricks that we’ve built our life upon. I don’t get wrapped up into explaining how it all fits together anymore, because it’s a little easier for everyone else. That’s cool. Less admin for me.
But with my child growing up, and all this additional sense of liberation that comes with growing older, getting wiser, and building a life…comes a whole bunch of change. Sure, she’s taller, but I’m left wondering if she’d be even taller if I had insisted on vegetables in every meal. Sure, she seems to be settling into a social life, but I’m wondering if my own anxieties as a human being are influencing her choices of friends. Sure, she seems to be a hilarious facsimile of my own person, but was that me, or was that the influence of my own mother? And, if it was my mother…am I now being more like her? Am I okay with that? (Yes, I really am. My mother was a warrior who overcame every fear to fight for what she believed in, even when her own body was falling apart, and she lost the love of her life. If I can live my life to be half as courageous as my mother, I will have done well).
Change means learning new things, and the language of letting go is one I still need a dictionary for. I may not have my own mother to call up and cry down the phone to, but I have a village of people I lean on. I have my amazing mother-in-law who absolutely goes to the dark places with me, fearlessly, and then she makes me laugh within them. I have my other mother-in-law who is a rock and an unyielding river of love. She is an unstoppable force and support that I have been lucky to have for my whole life. Nothing is ever too much for these women, and for that, I know my mother (and I) are grateful. If my mother is watching, I know she approves of the way they’ve stepped in where she could not now. The circle of friends who surround our family, and the wonder of genius minds who live within that circle, always provide light and perspective, as I try to learn the new language of letting go. While I’m stumbling around in the dark, they’ll find a candle. When I can’t see the journey, they’re building me a pathway.
And perhaps…perhaps…the hardest paragraph of knowledge to learn in this new language of letting go is this:
It is no longer about what you can teach them. It is no longer about what kind of approach you took in raising them when they were little. It is no longer about instilling manners, or mannerisms. It is no longer about the ways you showed them how to tie their laces, or say hello. All the little lessons you could teach them are done. Your chalkboard is blank, and your lesson plans are closed. What happens now, is what they do with what you taught them.
As she puts her spin on life, and delves in to learning who she is and how she is, she tries on characters, types, thoughts, beliefs, and inspirations. I see her looking for elements of herself in the world around her, and I see her searching to find things that feel true to her being. While I’ve tried so hard to offer her as many options as I can, some of them she has to find for herself. I can’t read her the whole menu of her life – some of those menu items are only for her to read.
While I’m learning the language of letting go, she is learning it too. Her spirit rallies against mine, as I untether the years of keeping her guarded, keeping her close, and averting her eyes from the world. She must look, and see, and do, and learn. But she knows that I am behind her, beside her, and… well, I’ll sum it up like this:
She runs into the world, and I am there waiting. I am supervising the sandpit as she plays into her own life, but I am no longer on the ground getting my feet muddy. The distance between my guardpost and the sandpit feels like a yawning abyss, but I know it’s just a foot in width.
She is the leaves and I am the trunk. I am the rooted tree, as she grows up towards the sun in the sky. She’ll use the tree to make paper, upon which she’ll write the story of her own life, and I, using the paper made from the tree of my own family, write out what I learn from the language of letting go. The trees of life bend to the wind, and wave to the sky, but they stay rooted, because…that’s why.
That is why trees exist, after all.