Last week, for the first time, my son balked at the mandatory “have a good day at school” kiss. My first-born, my baby, my guy. I watched him as he strolled off to hang out with his friends, an impossibly heavy backpack on those still narrow shoulders. Nine and ten year-old boy bodies were draped casually over the steps, waiting for the bell to ring. If you look closely, you can catch a glimpse of the lankiness looming there, just a few years away. I watched them laugh and talk, still at an age where they are earnest about listening to each other. But for the first time, I wasn’t privy to what they were talking about. They have secrets. They nudge each other and zip their lips and roll their eyes when they see an adult coming.
That boy, the one I fought so hard to have, the one I bathed and nursed and chased around the playground with a hot dog. The one I read to and cried with and fretted over, snuggled with and soothed, the one I gave up my body, my former identity and a full night’s sleep for, is growing up. He is checking those gauges and fueling those jets, calibrating instruments and logging plans.
He is exercising those downy wings of his and learning to fly.
There are so many things I feel like I haven’t had time to tell him yet, before he stops wanting to hear them. Have I told him that I love him enough? Have I told him what a great kid he is, how proud I am of him? Have I told him how amazed I am at his equanimity, his balance and even-temper? Or has all that been lost in moments of shushes and exasperated sighs and not-nows? Have I told him what a wonderful friend he is? Have I told him how I don’t worry about how he is going to turn out? How I can already see shades of the person he will become? Such a small window of time to get the balance right before it starts to set; before it hardens into something that you have to break before it can be fixed.
Before you take off on your own, son, you should know these things. You should know how much we love you. You should know that we would move heaven and earth if it meant keeping you safe. You should know that we trust you. We trust that whatever the future holds for you, you are going to make your own mark on the world in a way that is right for you. When you were a toddler, running through life, we taught you to ‘brush it off’ when you fell, to haul yourself back up and keep going. You will make mistakes, some of them small, some of them big. While we can, we will give you a soft spot to land on. But that’s another part of learning to fly. Keep brushing yourself off. Keep trying.
Don’t spend too much time on the fancy stuff. Life isn’t about loop-de-loops and nose dives, even though those may seem like the most exciting parts to you right now. Yes, passion is a wonderful thing, dedication and motivation should all play a part. But a lot of life is about keeping an even keel, keeping it steady, keeping on course. That is yet another part of learning to fly.
Right now you are only puddle jumping. Running an errand by yourself, taking a different route to school. Soon you will walk to a friend’s house on your own, ride to sports practice by yourself. You will make your own plans and be responsible for your own things. They are small puddles you are jumping now, but soon they will widen and stretch, turning into streams, then lakes, and eventually oceans. I know when you are ready you will be fine. When you have enough hours under your belt, enough lessons, enough practice with those wings of yours, you will soar.
Most of all I trust that when you do fly off, beyond my reach and into the world that is waiting for you, that you will come back.
I will always be waiting.