Do you remember when your kids were about two years old, and their big fixation was “No! I do it myself!”?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that time quite a lot.
I remember sitting with the other parents on park and playground benches, watching Adrian or Rachel toddle off to pursue their own adventures. Sometimes they’d find other kids their own age, and sit happily in the sand, digging with their plastic shovels or running their toy cars and trucks along imaginary roadways.
Or they’d happily climb on play structures, or just charge around the park as fast as their stubby little toddler legs could pump, running just because they could, and it felt good. They’d seem oblivious to the adults who hung along the edges, though from time to time I’d catch my little one glancing back to make sure I was still there.
And every now and then, they’d run up to me, touch my knee for a second, allow me to wipe their nose or give them a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Then they’d be off again, intent on their own important agendas. Climbing the play structure, waiting their turn for the slide, picking dandelions to take home…or just running. Always somewhere to go, always as fast as possible.
I remember this time so well, and I remember thinking how amazing it was that these small beings, who’d been born only a couple of years earlier…
…were suddenly striking out on their own for the first time, leaving me to sit on the perimeter and keep an eye on them from a distance. It was the first tentative moment of separation, for both of us.
I used to love those brief interludes in their new independence, when they’d dash over to me, reassure themselves that I was still there, and then dart away again, renewed and ready for more action. It seemed to me that they were recharging their emotional batteries from the Maternal Mothership, giving themselves the tiny boost in comfort they needed to go about their business of learning to be on their own in the world beyond home, the bigger world of the playground.
These days, the playground full of toddlers has been replaced with college dorms, classes, students, professors, assignments…but the pattern is a familiar one.
Texts or video calls take the place of the quick glance over the shoulder, and longer visits home offer the reassurance that while so much is changing in their lives, certain things remain solidly, comfortably, reliably the same.
Back when the kids were toddlers, they were preparing themselves for the next leap forward into independence, whether that was nursery school, kindergarten, or “big-kid play group” (aka “without Mum”).
Now, they’re doing a back-and-forth dance between school and home, as they get ready to leap into their adult lives. When that happens, “home” will be wherever they live; when they come back to visit us, it’ll be “going to visit Mum and Dad,” rather than “going back home.”
It’s a big jump they’re getting ready to make, and it’ll take a few more years of “revolving doors” before they’re fully ready to go. I have to say, I’m in no particular rush.
- Tear Down the Swing Sets (slate.com)