Our home sits next to the neighborhood bike trail, and from our patio we overhear the walkers, runners, skaters, bikers and meanderers—snippets of their conversations as they pass by.
This morning I hear a small child’s voice. I imagine a girl, maybe 2 or 3.
“I need you, I need you, I need you.” (no breaths between)
A heartbeat of a pause.
“I don’t need you anymore.” (with pride)
One heartbeat. Two heartbeats. Three heartbeats.
The next sound I heard was the arrow piercing my heart. “I can do it myself mama, I don’t need you.”
And then, “Let’s do it again.” (with excitement)
Remembering the conversations I had last night, on a different patio, over a pitcher of margaritas. A dear friend whose daughter is navigating life challenges without the counsel of mama. She’s figuring it out on her own, but in a different time zone, without daily calls or texts. A new friend who just dropped off his beloved daughter at college, six states away…his family figuring out how to live/talk/hear with and without her, especially mama. My own changing relationship with my mama, and how at 58 and 82 we’ve finally figured out that we deserve each other, in a good way.
Motherhood (and I suspect fatherhood), a constant hamster wheel of love and rejection. Help me, help me, help me…not now. Repeat.
Wait, I am not done helping. I have more help to give. What do I do with my help (and this casserole of chicken enchiladas, all of the photos I have saved, your elementary school art, boxes of softball trophies/Breyer horses/American Girl dolls/Barbies/Hotwheels/horse show ribbons/books/stuffed animals and blankets) if you don’t need it anymore? Am I just supposed to stash it away until you want it/me again?
As a matter of fact, yes.
It would be so much easier, if they could articulate (even at the age of two, all the way until the age of 60), “You have done such a great job of helping me, I am ready to try this on my own, and I am even strong enough to fall on my own. You taught me how to pick myself back up, remember? For now, why don’t you just have a glass of wine and hang out with Dad?”
This year, I remember telling friends that I had all of this wisdom to share with my daughters, if only they would listen to me. I wasted years of not listening to my mother (or listening and ignoring, only to realize later that she was right all along), and I wanted Kate and Alex to have access to everything I knew, so they wouldn’t have to learn the hard way.
Sometimes they listen. But usually they have their own ideas about how to move forward. And in most cases, their ideas are more informed, adventurous, and much smarter than my offerings. With both girls, for the moment, we’re in that space between “I need you” and “I don’t need you” when the bike is balanced and the path is clear. When Kate and I have a difficult conversation, one of us has the wisdom to say, “let’s start with agreeing this is tricky to talk about.” Alex is living alone in Seattle, and when I’ve offered to help her brainstorm solutions for a new challenge, she simply responds, “I’ll let you know when I need help.”
And I am learning to be a patient mama…packing away their stuff (neatly, in clear boxes with color coded handles), wondering how they’re doing without me, wondering when they will need my help again.
I’ll be there in a heartbeat.