Parenting, failing, and letting go

Originally published Monday, 18 February 2013.


It's midnight and we wait for the second email to come in before heading over to the school to pick him up. A week away and it has felt like both forever and just a few minutes. These weeks slip by so fast. Eleven years now of being a mom. I wonder how many more moments I'll get to wrap him up close, enfold him in these arms that used to encircle him every night. I may have known what bad habits I fostered that first year of life, that dependency on me as I nursed him to sleep every night so that he couldn't go to sleep by himself and we didn't get a sitter to go out on a date for a year. But I didn't care. He needed me. And I loved it.

I loved the way he loved me with that wide-eyed, pure way of his, the way his next word, after "Mama" and "Dada" was "dog" for everything: the moon when it shown bright in the sky, the book he was carrying around, his truck. With determination and confidence he would name what he saw, and while it may not have been accurate, it was perfect and made me smile. It is still one of our favorite stories about him now, especially when we see him on the floor these days, wrestling with one of his best friends, his long-awaited dog.

He has been away with his fifth grade class for a week in Washington, D.C. a long way from California, and the first time he has set foot on a plane without us. We don't get to talk to him, connect with him in any way while he is gone, and my heart about leaps out of my chest in relief when the email comes with the Shutterfly invitation to view the first photos of their album. There he is, at the buffet, all smiles. He's made it. He's smiling. Oh, that boy of mine. So small yet, and so big. How many more years until he leaves? When will it be--that day I can no longer hold him in my arms?

Our hot tea is caffeinated the night we wait for him to come home--for the shuttle to deliver him at the school, two blocks from our house. We watch the final episode of Titanic and then open our computers and get anxious, wanting to time our going over to meet the bus just right because we hope to sneak over together--even while our two younger ones are home asleep. We don't want to head over too early and be gone from home more than a few minutes. But we also don't want to be late for the bus pulling into the parking lot either. So, with impatience, we wait.

And when it is 12:35 and the second email hasn't come to tell us whether they are still delayed, we don't walk the two short blocks but jump in the car to get over there as quickly as we can. As we pull into the school parking lot, we scan the area to see if we are early or on time.

The parking lot is almost bare.

"Oh, good, the bus isn't here, yet! We haven't missed it!"

And then our hearts drop.

"Oh, no.  Oh, no. The bus isn't there. . .It's already gone! Jackson is standing there, by that one car! Do you see him? He's all alone! We are late! We are late! We missed him being dropped off!"

My mother's heart breaks right there. I am both mortified by how this looks--that he may think he was forgotten or that we just didn't care--and full of sorrow, as I see our boy's tired, sweet eyes, trying to look so brave. wheeled luggage in one hand. He stands there in the dark parking lot, 12:40 am, with his school principal and a dear friend who was picking up her son, too. She waited.

She waited.

We were twenty minutes late. That little boy of mine was standing in that parking lot waiting for his mom and dad to come and get  him, just like all the other parents, and his parents didn't. They weren't there.

It is crazy and makes perfect sense, doesn't it, that when we feel we've failed our kids somehow, a piece of our heart feels like it is dying right there?

Oh, how I wanted to rewind time, go back and have left the house twenty minutes earlier, email or not.

I know I am being overly dramatic and have so little to grieve about: after all, he is here now. He made it back safely. The plane didn't crash. He was cared for. He actually didn't stand in that parking lot all alone.

But when he walked into the house and uncharacteristically said, so simply, "I'm going to bed now." I just about crumpled to the floor.

How do we navigate these waters? How do we manage to keep going when we can't press rewind and do it all over? How do we feel okay when these opportunities to be present, to be available and supportive, feel so much more fleeting than before?

He is still the boy who likes to cuddle, and I crawl up onto that top bunk of his and lie down. His covers are over his head.

"I'm sorry, buddy. I'm so sorry."

"Mom, it's okay."

His sweetness, his forgiveness, is beautiful, and I don't deserve it. It makes me even more sad.

I stay up for two more hours, my heart beating fast, my husband letting me cry.

How many more days? How many more moments?

Oh, God--I mess up, and you love me still. Let me keep going. Let me keep loving.

Let me be okay with his growing up, and my messing up . . . and with his decreased need to grasp a hold of my hand.

How have you wrestled with wanting to rewind time? How do you lift up your hands and trust God, knowing that, no matter how we mess up, He forgives us and loves us still?