Tag Archives: letting go of your kids

Liberation Day

Yesterday was the first day of school and I’m not gonna lie — I couldn’t push my kids out the door fast enough. Don’t get me wrong. I love the sweet darlings, and we had a great summer of hiking, swimming, road tripping and summer day camping. But after 10 weeks (yes, 10 — the Calgary flood robbed us of four whole days of school) of no structure, “Mommy, watch this!” and bedtimes pushed past 9 p.m., this mommy was ready for a return to sweet routine.

Bennett and Avery were super excited about their first day of school.

Bennett and Avery were super excited about their first day of school.

I was especially excited because this year Bennett is in grade 1 at Renfrew. Translation: full days. I load him on the bus at 8 a.m. and usher him back into the house at 4:30 p.m. I half expect him to head for the Dad chair, ask for the evening paper and order a Manhattan, but today he only said, “I’m hungry,” before devouring a Larabar and a peach.

Bennett boards his bus all smiles on the first day of school.

Bennett boards his bus all smiles on the first day of school.

Full days aren’t new for Avery, so she barely waved goodbye before lining up by the school door with the other grade 3 kids. As soon as she entered the building I skipped back home whistling Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah. Then I locked the dog into her kennel, popped the cork on a bottle of Moet and cheersed myself repeatedly.

Piper is growing up even faster than Avery!

Piper is growing up even faster than Avery!

Is it wrong to feel so euphoric about the children entering this new phase of full day institutionalization? Should I feel sad they are getting bigger and growing up? That there’s less time for free play with them, and more time for me-play? Translation: I can actually compose an e-mail without interruption, and I have long swaths of time for writing stories.

Some of the moms at Avery’s school have mixed emotions about their kids starting full days. They’re giddy about the new freedom while simultaneously grieving the loss of the littleness. And I get it. During particularly sweet moments I often wish I could just freeze time. I think, “I want them to be eight and five forever!” But then they grow and learn more and I’m glad for it because it means we can do more as a family and have better conversations and it just makes life easier for everyone. What’s more, my kids love school. They are as ready to return as I am for them to go back. As I wrote in a previous post, being a parent is, at its core, an act of letting go.

So yesterday, I let go. I waved goodbye, watched the bus drive away, and did a little happy dance. (Full days, people!)

Life of Parents: An act of letting go

I finally went to see the movie Life of Pi this past weekend. I read the book years ago and had forgotten some of the finer details of the story, such as Pi’s introduction to various religions as a child, and the alternate ending with his mother, the cook and the sailor. I had also forgotten how I cried when Richard Parker walks into the Mexican jungle with nary a backward glance at Pi. It was so heartbreaking.

Richard Parker walks away from Pi without saying goodbye.

Richard Parker leaves Pi without saying goodbye.

For those who haven’t read the riveting book or seen the visually-stunning movie the story goes like this: an Indian teenager finds himself on a life boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker and he must find a way to share the boat with the animal to ensure they both survive. A sort of high seas training ensues with the boy, Pi Patel, becoming the tiger’s master and also his unlikely mother, for lack of a better word. Pi feeds Richard Parker, provides him with fresh water and comforts him when the tiger is near to starvation.

Pi comforts the tiger when he is near to starvation.

Pi comforts the tiger when he is near to starvation.

Their boat finally reaches a beach in Mexico and Pi collapses on the sand. Richard Parker leaps off the boat and walks toward the jungle before disappearing in the undergrowth, without saying goodbye or even so much as glancing back at the boy who saved his life. Pi watches this unceremonious farewell and then dissolves into tears, still blubbering about his tiger when some locals show up and take him to a hospital to recover from his castaway ordeal. (On one level you realize it’s a wild tiger so you can’t really expect the same devotion you’d get from a dog. But still. Bring tissues.)

Pi watches Richard Parker leave without saying goodbye.

Pi watches Richard Parker leave him on the beach.

Years later, in retelling the story and its goodbye (or lack thereof), an adult Pi Patel says:

“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”

It struck me that this is true and especially so for parents. We spend a huge part of our life raising our children and every stage involves letting go: of a chubby hand, a wobbly bicycle, a set of car keys. Our job as parents is to teach them the skills they need in order to let them go, but the difference between us and Pi is that usually we get to say goodbye: on the first day of school, before the first date, when dropping them off at university.

We can’t fathom that there won’t be a final goodbye, that they might have an accident and die, or run off travelling and never come back, and that our last memory would be them walking away and not looking back; that we won’t get to say, “Good luck. I love you. Goodbye.”

We can't imagine our children will leave us without looking back or saying goodbye.

We can’t imagine our children will leave us without saying goodbye.

There’s something about goodbye that brings closure. It’s why friends and family members rush to the side of an ailing loved one, or failing that attend the funeral. To not say goodbye leaves you living with hurt from a void that can never be filled.

On that boat Pi developed such an attachment to his tiger companion that Richard Parker’s abrupt departure is devastating. It’s hard to bear either way you interpret the story — with Pi as a boy losing his tiger; or the alternate ending, with Pi as a young man losing his innocence.