Running

This week Free the Human is offering a guest post. If you are interested to submit a post send it to me via the contacts link or just write to say hello.  Also, I invite you to add comments. I am happy to report that seven months into this blog the numbers are increasing weekly. Thanks for being a part of this. Terry Plotkin.

Running

By Tamara Grogan

My daughter leaves for college in ten days.  For the record, I am a single parent; she is an only child.  Those acquainted with this milestone are either smirking (“She’s got no idea how good things are about to get”) or nodding sympathetically at my clichéd empty-nest plight.   The two reactions played themselves out recently at a bike shop.

The owner was adamant. “You’re sending a kid out, ready to take on the world, with the skills to do it?  Hey, you’ve done your job.  Time to celebrate.”

“Hmm,” I replied.  “Uh…right.  Not quite there yet.” He threw up his hands.  The other customer at the counter, a longtime friend with a senior in college, laughed a little helplessly and admitted, “We’re not there yet, either.”

I know the owner is right.  Yes, I’d like to embrace this change; I’d like to celebrate.  In our case, I should be going around giving myself high-fives in mirrors.  My kid is SO ready, for all of it: the bigger pond, the wider social horizon, the absolute riches available to her academically and culturally.  No child has ever been better prepared to take whatever a university can dish out.  So why am I tearing up, at the least little thing?  Scrolling through baby pictures? Staring at her long self stretched on the couch, doing ratio math comparing her length at birth (21.5”!) to now (69”!). Why waste a moment of this precious last summer of her childhood, the end of our life as we’ve known it, moping around? I hated to see myself doing this, but felt powerless to stop.

Then one night, we went to eat dinner.  My daughter went inside to order.  I remained outside at the picnic tables, shivering in the unaccustomed summer evening chill. A young family rode up on bicycles. While they waited for their number to be called, Dad was teaching the baby—a toddler, actually, about 15 months old–to run.  He ran alongside, in big, exaggerated, high-stepping slo-mo, and the baby ran with him, giggling hysterically at how much fun this was, sometimes plopping abruptly onto his diaper-cushioned butt, but immediately getting back up to run some more.   “Run to Mama!”  Daddy shouted.  “Run to me!”  Back and forth the baby ran, laughing his head off.

I sat there feeling struck by lightning.  How much time had we spent (because my daughter has a truly gold-standard father) teaching her to “run”?  How hard had we tried to instill in her that same gut-busting joy you feel when the pistons are cranking, the synapses are firing, all the systems are fully and freely engaged?  So much time, so much love, so much work.  Would I/we stand in her way even for one second, now that the time has come for her to run as hard as she can?   An instant:  the full extent of her misery, stuck at home, flitted through my mind, and I had to laugh.  No.  God, no.

Would any of us deprive another of that joy—full power, full throttle, being most completely who and what we are capable of being?  When I think about it this way, the whole picture changes.  I thank the universe for sending me that baby (and my baby).  I would ask for a just a few more days, to feel some earned and natural sadness at the passing of an era. Then, time to set that aside.  I will work hard to learn my new role as that girl’s devoted supporter and fan, urging her to the bend in the road, cheering her on out of sight.

5 Responses to “Running”

  1. Tamara, what a poignant and beautifully written post. I love the full throttle imagery of your daughter’s launching out into the great wide open. I can imagine that you have cultivated the kind of relationship with her that will allow her the freedom to run full-tilt right back to you when life calls for a trip home. I also love that there’s a Wendell Berry quote at the top of the site. One thing I remember him saying when he met with a group of our faculty where I used to work: he lamented that universities now only have one major — he called it “mobility.” He called for higher ed to develop a second major — he called it “homecoming.” May your daughter double major and excel in both.

  2. Tamara, this is beautiful. Yes, Tess is ready for just about anything, as is obvious even to us outsiders. And you certainly deserve congratulations for your part in her success.

    But the sadness is right too. Every transition is both a death and a birth. The challenge for us as parent is, I think, to feel both the sadness and the joy — to embrace them both fully and at the same time, even though each feeling by itself is almost too much to bear — so that there is joy in the sadness even as there is sadness in the joy.

    Wishing both of you a wonderful year and sending you a hug…

  3. tamara a poignant, beautifully written piece. many parents would benefit from reading this. it brought it all back, my only child a daughter leaving for college. thank you. please keep writing. share with us.

  4. Tamara, thanks, you have so beautifully described a parent’s joy and sorrow. As a father of two, not yet in college, I am torn between my dueling responsibilities to protect and to release. After they have moved into adulthood, I imagine that I will tearfully embrace both the memories of their childhood and the reality of their absence.

  5. thanks, birdman (:-) i hope i can get to a balanced place about it. many people seem to have done so before me; the path is well-trodden. when i get stuck, i ask myself, what is the alternative? her being a child forever? NOT growing up and moving on? it keeps things in perspective.

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