Today I watched my five-year-old son run down the street to play with the neighbor kids. I let him go, as I saw the light in his eyes when the neighbor girl knocked on the door and asked him to play. He was so excited. How could I refuse? I followed him, sitting halfway down the block between where they were playing and our house so he could play, but I could still see him.
The two neighbor children are both eight. They rode scooters and bikes. Then they moved to basketball, and then to driveway hockey. As I watched them play, I listened to their conversations. I could hear some sweet and playful discussion, some negotiation about the rules of driveway hockey, and also some talking down to my son from the older kids. In their opinion, he was too little to do some of the things they were doing, or at least too little to do them well.
Now obviously I am a proud parent, and I believe my son can keep up with the best eight-year-olds any day...and really, he can. He's wise and physical beyond his years. But to the neighbor kids, he is five, they are eight, and that means he's at the bottom of the totem pole. Fair enough.
As I sat and listened to them banter from afar, I was proud of my son for his reasoning and politeness. He took all of the conversation in stride and was proud, even when they said things about him being little. It took everything in me not to interject. I kept myself quiet at times when they clearly were not playing fair, and I let them work out their disagreements on their own. I know that my son needs to learn to deal with all kinds of interactions, and he did great. I was kind of a mess.
After a particular incident of unfairness, my son's five-year-old emotions finally got the best of him and it was time to go. I reflected on this experience as we walked home. I realized after struggling to sit back and let playtime unfold, that this, at its simplest, was the beginning of my practice of letting him go. My heart sank. I will eventually have to let him go.
Now, this may seem like an extreme conclusion from watching him play with the neighbor kids, but this is our reality as parents. Interactions and situations like these happen daily. Parenting is in fact, a constant act of letting go. I guess that these little moments are preparing us for the ultimate point when they go off into the world to live their own lives. These little situations each day build us up and prepare us for the inevitable. If you think about it, we only really get our children for a very short time, and then as quickly as they came into the world, we begin to let them go.
We start by letting them fall when they are learning to walk so they learn to balance. We send them to daycare or school. We let them choose their own clothes, and shoes, and hairstyle. We let them play with the neighbor kids down the street, and try not to interfere. And as every parent knows, there are so many more things big and small along the way.
Now the question I am left asking myself is, how will I handle all of this? How will I ultimately let this boy, my boy, go? Right now all I want to do is hold him tight and keep him five forever. And that is why I will call it practice. The practice of letting go, because truly I don't think I am very good at it, and I am not sure I ever will be. But for him, I will keep practicing, and we will both be stronger for it.