When I was twelve I gained 40 pounds and shot up six inches. In a short period of time I went from the smallest girl in my gymnastics class to the tallest, the heaviest. All limbs and hips and midsection with no core strength and no coordination, everything about the familiar gym, my athletic and activity home for five years, seemed stark and unfamiliar. I couldn’t flip around the bars with any rhythm, lost my ability to tumble, and the splits sent me into hysterical tears. I took more bathroom breaks than I did runs down the trampolined runway - vaulting into nothing. I felt suddenly, starkly stopped. Nothing moved the way I wanted to move.
Adolescence is an ungainly beast. Of course, with hindsight, as the mother of pubescent children, I see this clearly. But then, my identity had shattered. I was in a body I didn’t recognize in a phase I hadn’t requested. Everything that had been taught and taut and tight and flexible was stiff and solid, fat and dimpled. We are most vulnerable when we are being recreated. I was, swiftly, someone new.
Here is how we are remade. A recipe, for your records.
1. Notice what is different. Take stock of your breaths and your strides. How they lengthen. How they halt.
2. Recognize what you will never regain. Let go of what was. You aren’t there, across that room, now or ever again. You are here - you are now.
3.Hold your hands open. Weep wildly. Breathe in. Breathe out.
4. Imagine what comes next. Do not paint in permanent marker. Do not choose a new name. Make art but do not tag it. You don’t know yet who you will be. Dream, though. Dream always.
5. Revisit #1. Take stock of your breaths and your strides. Look towards where you leap. Do not look back.
6. When you think you have arrived, conceive this: you have not yet begun.
Yesterday I followed my son and his friends, in a black Acura MDX, down a winding Black Hills road, brake lights brightening at every corner and twist and turn and then - onto the same dark interstate where I was nearly killed in an 80 mile per hour accident in a convertible in the middle of a similar dark night just five months before. You want to know how to parent but then, faced with the impermanence of our role as parents, you want to know how to make friends. How to keep them close. How to ensure they call you when you are old and gray and how to remind them to brush their teeth, to hold a door, to check their gut, to ask for consent, to offer respect, to engage with humanity and this, the watching of their tail lights at 80 miles per hour, as they weave in and out of traffic, with grace and responsibility is how you let go.
No one tells you, when you hold new birth and opportunity, that you will run out of time to be intentional. You’ll run out of options to try and ways to be and ideas to recreate. I am not the parent I wanted to be. I am out of time.
Parenting is an ungainly beast. We know this, of our own parents. When we experience this as parents ourselves, we see differently. I am the fearful, unsure, gangly, stumbling version of myself when I see me reflected in their eyes. I hope they make it, I hope they make it.
I followed them for fifty miles, never breathing once. We finished the drive home - pulled into a driveway in a place we will call temporary and have called home and he is safe he is safe he is safe he is safe.
We are working towards the very next of what comes very next. One obstacle over, we vault into the unknown.
This stage is equally unexpected - where my son outgrows me. Where he stands on a runway ready to launch. Where he leaves me behind. Where I stay back, hands open, letting go and then
Applaud. Knowing full well that he will stumble, faceplant, trip, shrug, skirt responsibility, surprise me. Parenting is the slow clap of another breath. Another step.
When you think you have arrived, conceive this: you are just beginning.