When Lily was born we opted for “non separation” for her hospital care. This meant that she was bathed and examined in my room, and she never went to the nursery. When we weren’t holding her she lay in a little clear lucite bassinet on wheels. My midwife’s orders were that I needed to be upright and walking around the hallway within a few hours of giving birth, so Nat and I wheeled Lily around the maternity ward in her little plastic box. I remember looking at Nat and saying “I can’t believe we get to keep her forever” and his response was that we couldn’t keep her because “she isn’t really ours.”
That has been Nat’s role in our joint parenting, to pull me back a little when I would otherwise have been smothering. Many times I have made the joke that the kids would still not know how to walk if I was left to my own devices because I would never have put them down long enough for them to learn. In fact, Lily walked at only 9 months old and sometimes it feels like she never looked back. She never had any separation anxiety or fear of strangers. On public buses she constantly reached out to anybody who made eye contact and she would literally try to wiggle out of my arms and into the laps of people seated beside us. I have always struggled to share her with the world, she has been a kid who needed to be let go and I have always tried to hide from her how hard that is for me.
Today we attended our first high school open house together. I literally teared up at the Headmaster’s opening remarks, just that we were in this room at all, that we are getting to this next transition. Some of the schools on Lily’s and our list for high school are the same as ones we looked at for kindergarten. I remember feeling fraught when we attended these open houses close to a decade ago, looking forward to her first formal school experience. In some ways, I felt more stressed at that time than I do now, I was at a loss when the schools urged us to consider our child’s learning style when making our pick. I couldn’t fathom what that meant, how could I know about her learning style before she had ever been past the play of pre-school? It felt like her life was hanging upon the choice of what elementary school we chose. So today was a relief compared to the last time we were making these visits, I was surprised at how un-stressed I felt today, how it was more emotional than anything else.
I didn’t even know she would be attending, but as we waited in a row for the program to start one of my closest friends in Philly walked in with her 7th grader. They sat to my right, and Lily and some of her current classmates and their parents were to my left. This friend and I met at a new moms group when the girls were just weeks old. Going to that group was the first time I had ever driven Lily anywhere all by myself, and I remember how huge an accomplishment it was just to get to that group with us both in one piece. Some of my strongest and best memories of new motherhood are the days I spent at that new mom’s group,and hours after the formal program ended this friend and I would still be on the couches underneath our tiny babies who were asleep on our chests. Here we were today, approaching a huge milestone of having to let our kids go a little more away from us.
This letting Lily go into independent space and choices of her own is as hard for me now as when she was a baby reaching out to strangers on the bus. But I also see the wisdom of Nat pulling me back at times when I would have really smothered Lily from having her own space. One of my favorite quotes is that you need to give kids “roots to grow so they can have wings to fly.” In recent years, I have been so worried about the space that Lily will need to take, away from us, and I feared the sadness that I would feel experiencing this progression of her development. The reality has been a relief; my sadness is getting smaller in proportion to my excitement for her for all the milestones she’s hitting on her own merits. Still, I can’t believe the kid sitting next to me today is that little baby we pushed around in a plastic box almost 13 years ago.