The Art of Letting Go

A decade ago, I wrote my first commentary for WBFO. It was about a shopping trip with my then four-year-old daughter. Today, that bubbly little girl is an adventurous teen. Her fashion sense has, if anything, become even more audacious over time. Her mother, too, is ten years older, hopefully a little wiser, and the girl, much more eager to explore the world on her own terms.

We’re no longer negotiating jagged sidewalks during a spontaneous bike ride to Delaware Park, and our differences of opinion have little to do with vegetables or toys. Now we negotiate curfews and sleepovers, the latest party or the next teen dance. Most of the time, our exchanges are civil. But when the stakes are especially high for both of us, the power struggle can be intense. It’s then I want to reach for photo albums filled with frozen images of earlier, easier times. Compared to discussing the dangers of substance abuse or the virtues of platonic friendship, changing a soiled diaper was nothing.

A friend reassures me. “Stop pining for the toddler she once was. Stand back and appreciate the young adult she’s becoming.”

And he’s absolutely right. The amount of energy, time and, let’s face it, ego that I’ve invested in raising my daughter should in no way limit her ability to keep walking forward on that long, uneven road to adulthood. This includes the freedom to make, and learn from, her own mistakes.

Yet every time she ventures out to another party, my insides get a little tight. Each time she breathlessly recounts how cute someone was at a dance, my mind flashes back to my own memories of adolescent romance. Whenever I drive somewhere to pick her up, I can’t help but think that in just a few short years, it won’t always be me behind the wheel anymore.

Today’s youth love to broadcast their most personal thoughts using the most public venues. In posting raw and silly comments for their BFFs on the Internet, they’re also sharing delicate secrets with an audience that’s much wider than they could ever visualize. And here I am, recording a very personal commentary that allows me to reach a large group of listeners, many of whom I will never meet.

To all the parents of teens out there, I’m with you. We know all too well the painful push-and-pull between yes and no. We rely on the sometimes vain hope that when the going gets really tough, we can simply say, “Because I said so”— and have that be the end of it.

I know that my daughter and I will survive these years. Despite the posturing, the pouting and the occasional shouting, the love remains. If anything, it’s grown stronger.

But for now, we each have a job to do. Hers, to challenge many of the boundaries I’ve set, if only to know how far she must still travel to reach the other side of childhood. And mine, to provide the invisible string that allows her to venture farther out on her own, while maintaining a consistent and safe connection.

I suppose in the end, I’ll get through it just like my own parents did: one worry and one joy at a time.

Recorded in June 2010 as a Listener Commentary for WBFO, an NPR affiliate

Long Ago

I close my eyes and I remember
how we once made each other laugh.
I lived for your smile, which signaled
another moment of our life together, forever,
for a while.

Our youthful dreams intertwined
as we practiced being one.

Then she came.
A bundle of unspeakable pride, utter ecstasy,
and daunting obligation.

Trying to be my mother, I watched as you
learned to become your father.
With a baby to raise
we found ourselves drowning
in images from the past.

Her crying was relentless.
I was weary – you, impatient
the two of us struggling, together
yet growing apart and living each day
in our increasingly
separate worlds.

I whispered.
Alone, you heard nothing.
We stopped breathing
and instead choked
on unspoken words.

Too many unanswered whispers
and I slowly went mad.

Inside my loneliness I felt teardrops
as thick as the milk
feeding our child.

And I heard the echo of my own voice
calling your name
as she slept in my arms.

Where was I?
I can’t remember.
Where were you?
It doesn’t matter anymore.

A time of unbearable sorrow
has already diminished in intensity
as I realize how much
our baby has grown,
how beautiful and strong
she has become.

I look at her face and
see you, her father,
smiling back at me
just like so many years ago.


Cue the Theme Song

Forget June Cleaver. For my generation of impressionable dreamers, the inspirational TV mom was Clair Huxtable. She was gorgeous, stylish, smart and clearly in control of her household, even as she managed a successful career in the law. Like her name implied, she exuded clarity and confidence. The kids could goof off, but by the end of that half hour, Clair was unequivocally in charge. No one got away with anything – not even her husband, and certainly not her future son-in-law.

On the subject of ‘80s pop-culture icons, I fear my maternal temperament is more Roseanne Conner than Clair Huxtable. The antithesis of the well-put-together matriarch, Roseanne was perpetually tired and just a little indignant that she had to work so hard to stay one step ahead of her teenage daughters. Roseanne had a gritty side that made her hard to watch on TV, but a little easier to understand in real life.

Today’s headline news makes me recall another fictional family figure: Andy Taylor, one of TV’s earliest single parents. How did the Sheriff of Mayberry make it seem so easy? Surely the matronly presence of Aunt Bee was key. It also probably helped that the real child on the show wasn’t a red-haired boy without a mama, but a perpetually befuddled deputy named Fife.

Ah, if only parenting were as simple as a walk down a dirt road on the way to a beloved fishing hole. For a moment, I can dream.