You tense. You move. You dance a little on your tip toes and bide your time.
The band comes shrieking and surging, a mass of urgency — pint-sized yowling Visigoths with a soccer ball, looking to smash through the gates of Hadrianopolis.
And there you are … alone.
The ball rockets forward. You lunge. You’re airborne.
You’re 7 now and it’s like I re-learn every day that this is how it will be hence forth — not just on the pitch but in everything. We, your parents, can fill you with only so much advice, only so much knowledge and know-how, and then eventually there you are, on your own. Sure, we’ll be there to lend advice, or guide you, answer questions, offer shoulders, hugs, you name it. We’re your parents. We’ll always be there for you. But I’ll be damned if I become one of those parents who calls college professors on your behalf or offers excuses for why you missed an interview — or if you become one of those young adults who thinks this is acceptable.
You’re already learning how much you have to do on your own — how to handle that friend who makes you cry for no apparent reason, or how to handle the girl groups that mock your love of Star Wars Lego, how to lend a hand to teammate or how to tell the truth, even when it’s so very hard. So much of me wants to rage and fight your battles, but what good would that do you in the end?
I used to get bent out of shape at so many ridiculous societal notions that would seek to weigh you down — the ads you’ll have to deal with that will try to make you feel ugly just so you’ll buy things, the toy companies that will try to make you feel weird for liking blue things, the friends and parents I’ve already overheard ask why you like this and not that — “You know, the girl thing?” I used to want to take them all on, rally the troops, and, in the end, protect you with every ounce of my being. That’s what it comes down to really, us parents trying our very damnedest to do right by you, to have your back.
But every day you’re on your own almost as much as you’re with us, and this will only widen as you age. It used to be that I’d hand feed you gloop and change your clothes and carry you so close on my chest that I could feel your heart beat against my own. But now you’re 7. You’re in school, in practice, in car pool. I’ve found it much more helpful to fill you up with love and offer the tools you need for every occasion — the knowledge to figure things out on your own and get yourself out of jams, whether physical or, sometimes worse, with friends. You come to me with problems and we talk about the ways you might handle them. It used to be I’d wipe sand out of your mouth or help you into a chair. I could do things for you. But now it’s so very important you do them on your own. This is the thing I can do for you now: Teach you how to do it yourself.
I remember attending school tours and nodding my head along with parents who said, “I just want me daughter to be happy.” But now I realize who dangerous that can be. Yes, I want you to be happy. Of course. Who wouldn’t? But how far will a parent go to make this so? As I’ve seen over the years … very, very far. It occurs to me that this happiness might come from something else: being confident. Being able to do it yourself. Look, kid, I’m not putting you on some ice floe and wishing you luck. As I said, your parents will always be there for you. But it’s the nature of your age and how much growing you have left to do that the bulk of your obstacles will have to be confronted at times and in situations when we’re not there. I wish upon you the confidence to tackle them and the perseverance to keep going when it gets tough. Seven so far feels like this tough middle ground of hugging your problems away and watching you battle on your own. Your toughest ones are yet to come and I hope to fill you up with all the tools and lessons you’ll need to confront them.
So here they come, the howling bands. I watch from your corner. The ball is loose. It flies through the air.
You’re completely on your own.
You leap and there it goes, whooshing by your hands and whispering to a sudden stop in the back of the goal.
You retrieve the ball and kick it out and clap your hands.
“Let’s go!” you shout.
Kid, I’ll always cheer for you the loudest.
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