I’m usually pretty rational when it comes to parenting, but, sometimes, the very love and attachment you have for your kids can be what does you in.
Once in a while, with no prior warning, my neurosis escapes before my rational alter ego can contain it. That happened today, when my little guy clued me in once and for all that he has no intention of remaining within the loving embrace of his mommy’s nest once he is old enough to hit the road.
That, of course, sounds crazy. He is only five after all. But, all too often, parents learn the bitter lesson that time slips by without notice. He’ll be grown before I know it.
Still, why am I worrying about this? How could he possibly know what he intends to do? How could I know what he intends to do?
I know because my “Wild Bill,” my sweet little love bug, is exactly like me.
I spent my youth loudly counting the days until it was time to leave for college. Billy began the same refrain when he was only three. I dreamed of becoming a free spirited cross-country vagabond, eventually settling in California to pursue an acting career, or in the alternative, charting overseas adventures and pursuing careers plagued with a lifetime of intrigue and danger. Billy often talks of motorcycling off into the sunset, traveling to far off places. No matter the scenario, his sight is always set someplace beyond the horizon. The more extraordinary and precarious the adventure, the better.
To my parent’s credit, they did not balk when they realized I was serious about my wild plans. A short stint in a studio apartment in Washington D.C. was followed by a longer stint overseas in Budapest, Hungary. They did not flinch when I told them that the reason I wanted to study in Budapest was to experience getting off a plane and knowing neither the language nor a soul. I imagined the very occasional postcard or collect call from the countries I visited as I wandered across Europe was enough contact to please them.
And, most importantly, they did not protest when I began searching for far off career opportunities upon college graduation. Looking at it now, from a parent’s perspective, I’m sure that they must have feared they were losing their girl.
Years later, when I finally settled close to home, the choice was thoroughly mine. They never tried to stop me or, worse, guilt me into staying.
…And now, I’m the grown up with the adventurous child. Will I fare as well? Will I do the right thing by Billy?
On most days, I embrace the notion that Billy is like me. When he is old enough to choose, I do not want to guilt him into staying either. I imagine him launching an endless series of quite possibly dangerous but terrifically exciting escapades and, perhaps, never actually settling anywhere near the nest at all. Though I’ll miss him terribly if he leaves, I hope he satisfies his every curiosity and fills his soul.
So, today, when I temporarily lost my sense, it was a surprise even to me.
It started like any other afternoon walk, with Billy by my side, coaching me as I narrated another tale of his wild adventures in far off lands. On this day, the setting was the California Gold Rush, and when his adventure ended with a train ride back home, he protested. “No mommy, now I go somewhere else. I don’t go home. I never go home.”
And, just like that, his imaginary story took a very real and serious turn.
Before I could rationalize a more appropriate response, I blanched…and laid down the guilt.
It’s true. I planted a seed I never thought, or intended, to plant. I tried to guilt my sweet little five-year-old into abandoning his carefree wandering ways and staying with his mom. I know it’s awful.
In reality, there is no more important job than to help prepare a child for all that life can send his way, and then set him off to live it well.
Still, “send me somewhere else mom..I never go home,” rang in my ears. I felt dizzy, cold with sweat, my heart racing. Hot tears stung my eyes. …My lord, it’s true, my baby boy will not be contained.
For that split second, it was as if we were not mother and loving child, walking down the neighborhood streets hand-in-hand, but rather a mom saying goodbye to a grown boy chomping at the bit to be set free. And rather than rejoicing in setting him free, my first impulse was to hold him back.
And so, I said it. “No, no Billy, you come home. Don’t you want to be back with mommy, daddy and Eddie? Mommy needs you.”
Thankfully, I quickly recovered and masked my momentary lapse. “Oh okaaaay, go,” I joked. And off the story went, onto his next fantastic imaginary journey, this time across the ocean.
Eddie, our seven year old self-professed homebody called it years ago, when Billy was but a toddler. With his arms around us, he looked adoringly at little Bill, and sighed contently. “Hey mommy and daddy, when Billy gets older and moves out, it will just be the three of us again.”
Maybe so…though you never really do know. By then, however, I hope I will be ready for anything.