“It takes a life to build a life,” the old Arab adage goes, meaning, essentially, that kids take a lot out of you. Quite a few years in fact. As any mother knows, that life feels shorter when you have boys. But don’t take my word for it. In 2013, an article re-published on the Scientific American website said that a study had concluded that having sons may indeed shorten a woman’s life-span (all caveats included). But we knew that already.
Here’s the thing though: it’s not them, it’s us. We tend to limit our children because we are afraid, not because they are afraid. Every ounce of fear that our child feels, if not planted by us, is certainly fostered by us. The more control we need, the more we foster this fear. The children stay close, tied, bound to us for fear that…for fear that what? If something happens to the children, are they the ones who suffer or are we?
On a recent trip abroad my three boys and I rented bicycles to go around town despite the fact that we already had a car. As soon as we got them my middle child disappeared and he has yet to return. The older one followed him soon thereafter and my youngest, the 11-year old, stuck with me when he was unable to keep up with them.
The only problem there was that I stuck to the car.
I didn’t stick to the car because I preferred the car. Quite the contrary, I love to cycle and renting the bicycles was my idea. No, I stuck to the car because as a 46-year old mother of three flirting with Alzheimer’s, I forgot that I had rented a bike.
And so it happened that later that afternoon when my older children called me to confirm that they could not pick up their younger brother and his bike from the local nautical club and that I had to do it, I picked up the car keys and went.
“Why didn’t you come by bike?” asked my youngest, proving that he had already built more intelligence and common sense than I ever hope to have.
Like any self-respecting idiot, I owned up.
“Because I’m an idiot,” I said.
“So what do I do with my bike now? How do I get home? You know I’m afraid to go on the road, especially by myself.” He was calm and articulate considering the situation he had to face. I offered him his choices: he could put the bike in the back of the car and we could drive home, he could ride on the road and I would try to stay as close as possible or he could ride on the opposite pavement and I would keep an eye on him from the other side as far as possible.
He asked me which option I thought he should choose.
“I think you should do what makes you feel com…uncomfortable.”
“Un-comfortable?” he sneered, “why would I do that?”.
“Because then you will grow bigger and stronger,” I said, idiot that I am.
He chose the growth option. I followed as much as possible from the other side and, thinking that I saw him stop at the bike shop on the way back (he had been complaining about his helmet), parked and waited for him to come out. He didn’t.
At that point I figured that he had not, in fact, stopped at the shop and had continued home. So I went home. But he wasn’t there either. I waited. Maybe I had missed him on the way.
My sanity and insanity competed for dominance.
“He did stop at the bike shop and he’s still there,” said one.
“No he’s not! He’s been hit by a car,” screamed the other, “he’s been kidnapped! He’s fallen and hurt himself!”
Three years down.
I realized that I wasn’t ready for my son’s growth. I wasn’t ready for his empowerment. It didn’t matter what he felt. I couldn’t care less! I cannot handle this! I got back in the car to look for him, throw his bicycle in the car and throw him back inside of me, never letting him go. I wished I was a kangaroo.
I found him safe and sound at the bike shop. He thought he was lost and had stopped to ask for directions. “I have a problem,” he had told them apparently, “I lost my mother.” If only he knew the problems his mother was having at having lost him! They sagely told him to sit tight, that if he thought of stopping there, his mother would probably also think to go there. Clever guys.
“Where did you go?” he shouted at me with a grin from ear to ear, “I thought you said you were going to watch me! You went the other way!”
I explained that as a car, I couldn’t go against traffic and I had to u-turn. His eyes were gleaming with self-assurance. The distance from the nautical club to the bike shop was one mile and I could tell he already felt bigger and stronger.
“So what do we do now?” I asked, hoping he would wisely ask to stow the bike in the car and be done for the day. Growth be damned!
He got on his bike. “I know the way now,” he said, “I’ll meet you at home.”
I had empowered my son. I had made him a tad more independent. I had left him space to grow bigger and stronger. And it had cost me ten years of my life.
Ten years in the till. Ka-ching!
When my middle son was still nursing, I asked my pediatrician’s advice about leaving him for a few days because of a trip I wanted to take.
“I’m not sure about leaving this one,” I said, “he’s more attached to me than his older brother.”
He smiled. “Are you sure it’s not the other way around?”
I didn’t agree.
Fourteen years later, when my youngest told me: “I felt proud of myself today,” I knew exactly what my pediatrician meant.
Me too, I thought.