I watched my son, Nate, jump out of a plane the other day. To be clear, he didn't actually jump; he was attached to the instructor whose actions determined where Nate would go. And so out of an airplane they went, together. It was very cool, because the whole thing took place directly above the grassy field where Coco and I were standing, so we saw everything, from the moment they were visible in the air, outside the plane, until they landed on their feet, there in front of us.
I will tell you this, moms everywhere, you will think you have seen it all until you have watched your kid exit an airplane and float through the air, doing several flips along the way.
I was not worried; I'm not that kind of parent. My boys have grown up throwing themselves off of roofs and launching themselves off huge piles of snow. In August they positioned the trampoline beside the pool and spent two months hurling themselves into the water in all manner of twists and flips. I have watched them speed through fields on dirtbikes and go-carts, and eventually I watched both of them drive away from me. I know full well that I can't stop whatever life has in store for them and I believe in Western medicine's emergency capabilities. I don't think that they came to be in my care so I could stop them from experiencing life fully, in the many ways that make sense to them.
The other night at the dinner table Nate announced that he and five of his friends are planning a weekend road trip to Buffalo to go to a football game. Hearing this sent me hurling backward to my happy days as a high school senior, when my friends and I took road trips together to visit schools. There were rarely, if ever, parents involved in the college selection process back then. A bunch of us would pile into someone's car and off we'd go: to Ithaca and Canton and Boston. When I told my folks I wanted to visit some schools in Maine, my dad handed me the keys to the car and said, "Go have a look..."
In the course of telling us about his football game road trip plans, Nate also mentioned that "some of the parents are worried and are planning to have a meeting."
Those are the moments that make me frown. Not the jumping out of a plane, not the hurling, driving, spinning, climbing, testing of life's waters, but rather the incessant parental hovering that seems to come with the territory of raising kids these days. All these hyper-vigilant parents are making me look like a slacker when what I really am is a mother who wants her kids to understand how to navigate the world independently. I want my kids to find out, for themselves, where they end and the world begins. I want my kids to know how to use an ATM machine, how to check into a hotel, what it takes to shop for a meal, how much to tip the waitress. I want my kids to make choices that are scary, even if it means they might get hurt. I want them to know what to do in an emergency, because I don't intend to follow them around for the next 30 years. Pain and suffering teach us important things; being a little scared is a lot OK. If I drive too fast I will get a speeding ticket (Sam); if I allow my cousin to twirl me in a circle, fast, I might get a broken arm (Nate). Lessons learned.
I'm tempted to go to The Meeting of The Worried Parents. With me I will bring Exhibit A: Coco Eyre, age 10, who packs her own lunch, lays out her clothes each night for the next day, folds the laundry, walks the dog, cooks a mean plate of scrambled eggs and calls me from school when there is a change in any scheduling. Also, Exhibit B: Samuel McChesney, age 20, who makes his own doctor appointments, goes to work before 6 AM most mornings and deals with all issues and costs related to the ownership of his car. And Exhibit C: Nathaniel McChesney, age 18, who has completed his homework for his entire life without any prodding or questioning. Who schedules his standardized tests and gets himself to them on time; has taken it upon himself to work on this college applications, arranges and pays for appointments to have his hair cut and shops for his own clothes. Nate knows how to bake a pie. Sam can make your windows crystal-clear; Coco writes the most beautiful thank-you notes I have ever read.
These things didn't happen because I held their hands or forced them to do anything in particular. This happened because I got out of the way a lot of the time, because these three humans were given the space they needed to stretch, grow, make mistakes and navigate choices.
Parents, keeping an eye on your kids is fine, it's great, but do it with a sense of wonder, not out of fear. Seeing Nate, the other day, do something he had talked about for years, something that scared him a little, was a huge joy. I had done it five years earlier, so I knew a little of what he was going to experience: the thrill of the plane ride up, knowing what's coming; the moment of adrenaline rush when the door opens; the incredible disbelief that you're suddenly moving through the air, without a plane around you, and then, once the shoot opens, the dreamy sensation of floating back to earth.
I want all of these things, every single thing I have ever done and loved, done and was afraid of, done and made a mess of, done and learned a heap from, done and was enchanted by... I want them all for my kids, and more. Lots, lots more.