From playground to college: Some things don’t change

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Dear Wendy,

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.

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Wherever they were, they were always completely engrossed.

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.

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A brief pause in the action

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.

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Can’t stop to chat. Important business. BRB.

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…

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Don’t worry, little one. Soon you’ll be charging off on your own…

…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.

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Yep, still here.

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.

Love,

Karen

17 Comments

  1. This is the loveliest explanation of that “revolving door” phase I’ve heard. Perfect, really, to remind us that this stage should be cherished, too. Like all those that came before it, it won’t last, and we will miss it.

    • Thank you! By weird happenstance, I was just this minute commenting on your post for today! :)
      Glad you enjoyed this–it was actually inspired by a comment I received on last week’s post about losing my dining table. I love how these conversations take place among Internet friends.
      Karen

  2. Aw, Karen, this is just too beautiful! I know well what you mean about “revolving doors,” as my son is in college now, only returning for breaks and such, and soon will be in the working world (far from Mom’s watchful eye!). We raise them with roots to ground them and wings to soar on their own, don’t we? But it’s a bittersweet day watching them take off solo, and knowing they’ll be making their “home” elsewhere.

    • Exactly, Debbie–we’re seeing our daughter off at the train station in a couple of hours, and while that separation will tug at me, I know we’re still in the “watching from the sidelines” stage. Soon enough, the separations will feel longer, and she’ll have done the thing we’ve been preparing her to do all her life. But for now, I’m enjoying the back and forth.
      Karen

  3. We are on the same wavelength today! There is always the need to check and see if mom is there, watching and caring – even when they are grown and gone!

  4. Sweet post and photos! I just spent this past weekend visiting my son in college. All grown up and graduating this year, but there still are those fleeting moments of looking over a shoulder. Oh, I want mine to be little again!

    • We just dropped our youngest at the train station for the trip back to college. Hard to say good-bye, but I’m not sure I’d want to go back in time…still, I wouldn’t say no to grandkids when the time is right! :)
      Karen

  5. I thought you were going to say how funny it is that at 2 they wanted to do everything themselves and at 20, they want you to do it for them!! Lovely post and lovely daughter.

  6. I have two now in college and I still want to cry at certain times. You do get used to it, just once in a while something reminds me of when they needed YOU, and it pulls on the old heart strings. Though I’m finding that for my daughter who is not a communicator, she’s been calling much more often (especially when she doesn’t feel well).

  7. I don’t have kids of my own but am fortunate to have three amazing nephews that I have watched grow up. 2 of them are in university and one almost there. They change so quickly and it’s hard to watch them grow up and have so many other interests. Still I believe that the time put in when they are younger, pays you back in spades. I know that I will be a bigger part of their lives again down the road. Still……..

    • You will be; but kids go through stages of needing to try on their independence so they can cope as adults. I believe we’re constantly growing and developing through the life cycle, though we tend to think mostly in terms of “child development.”

  8. This was lovely. And I often think back to when they were little. That part about them running up to check to make sure you are still there and then running away again, so cute, and so true. I don’t think we ever completely run away. I am still waiting for my parents to get back from Mexico so I can see and talk to them in the flesh again. :)

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