Parenting in the aftermath

Dear Carter,

Yesterday I found out the paradox of parenting after your baby dies.

Your dad was working on teaching your brother how to ride a bike and your sister went outside to hang out, but they were nowhere in sight. She came back inside and asked me “Where’d they go?”, and I could tell she wanted to join the adventure, so I looked at her expectant and hopeful face, into her stormy teenager eyes, and I wanted her to fly. I wanted her to feel the rush of leaving the house by herself. I wanted her to use her critical thinking to remember the route we had taken to the park only yesterday and feel proud of herself when she made it there on her own. I wanted to begin sowing the seeds of independence that she will so desperately need in the coming years of high school and beyond.

So I smiled and said, “I don’t know where they went; I think they went to the park. Do you want to go find them?,” and she said yes, so I told her to be careful, call me if she needed me, and have fun. She left. And it was a beautiful parenting moment.

Until the door closed behind her.

And the beautiful moment took an ugly turn. What if someone takes her? What if she gets hit by a car? What if she gets lost and doesn’t know it and doesn’t call me? WHAT IF I LET HER OUT OF MY SIGHT AND THE WORST THING THAT CAN POSSIBLY HAPPEN HAPPENS? The panic rose in my throat as the thoughts jumped from my broken and fragile heart into my brain, where they proceeded to do battle with logic. She’s fine. The park is literally one block away. We just went there yesterday; she could find it blindfolded. She has her phone. Let her go.

Quite the conundrum. Where’s the sweet spot between smothering my stepkids to preserve my own sanity and giving them their freedom at the price of my wellbeing? I haven’t found my balance. Rationality hasn’t yet won the battle. So I finished the dishes in record time, dashed out the door, stuffed down a scream when she wasn’t immediately visible, grabbed my bike from the shed, pedaled frantically across the driveway, rounded the corner….and saw her silhouetted against the afternoon light at the end of the alley. Safe. Whole. And I could breathe again.

I don’t want to be that mom that can’t be apart from her kids because she’ll lose her mind with worry and anxiety. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, always hovering, always circling. What I want is to be able to foster my kids’ independence and creativity apart from myself. I want to teach them to soar. I want to parent from a place of love and support instead of from a place of fear. It’s just that when you left, when the worst thing actually DID happen, it took away all my naivety and made me more than a little jaded. Terrified, in fact.

I’m working on being in charge of my own positivity. I’m working on allowing myself to trust the beautiful moments in life. And I’m letting it be okay when I can’t, which I fully believe is progress in my journey. I recognize that there are things I need in order to keep myself centered. Like asking Auntie Bella to text me instead of call me during the day when we’re at work because random phone calls during the workday still make my heart do flip flops, even after a year. Following your sister on the bike yesterday was a survival tactic. It eased the anxiety I was feeling and loosed the bonds of the negative thoughts I was having. Even if I couldn’t let her fly this time, maybe I can next time. And at least she knows how very much I love her and how deeply I care about her health and happiness.

I am a continual project, my sweet son. Thanks for being patient as I learn. I feel you all around me and

I kiss you.

Love you forever,

Mommy

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