Parents want to protect their children. It’s not really a conscious thing – it’s instinctual. So, oft times, the conscious things we say and do to reign back our kids are rooted in the bone-deep need to protect and preserve.
All these years later, I still vividly remember innocent looks, the carefree laughs, and children piled atop their cousins – all sleeping soundly after hours of boundless play. These memories are precious and priceless, and I still feel the echoes of need to defend and extend that carefree zone.
Then comes the first look of real fear when the true world is finally noticed; real emotional pain caused by someone they opened their heart to; the first brick placed and mortared into the wall that nearly all adults eventually build. Every true parent’s heart sinks at the sight of these because they know that every effort to protect their cubs will be like holding back the rising tide with a broom.
Yes, I remember the loss of my own innocence. But even more clearly, I remember the look of sadness in my mother’s eyes when she realized I was no longer her little boy. Mentally, she wrapped her arms around herself because holding me no longer offered the same comfort as it did in my youth; it ceased to soothe.
Now, I see my adult children – such a dichotomous phrase – and I loathe to admit that my arms are no longer long enough, my words do not easily balm, and my smile does not relieve the tension in their shoulders. I feel impotent.
Now there is FaceTime – Thank God? – and in that small screen I see my son calm and soothe and protect his own children. I sense the invisible tether between them, and I shiver at the knowledge of it’s tenuousness. I see the same things when I see my daughter’s doting and soothing and fierce protectiveness of her young puppy, knowing full-well that this is practice and a precursor for when she has her own children.
And again, I feel helpless because I know the pain they will both feel when their children reach “that age”, and the separation begins. I feel helpless because I cannot protect them from that eventuality.
It is a cliché truism that parents must, at times, figuratively put their hands in their pockets and allow their children to experience pain and failure and other mini-disasters so that they may learn how to face them, deal with them, and grow from them on their own. And as true and necessary as this may be, there is absolutely nothing easy or matter-of-fact about it.
There is, however, one unchanging fact: Our children’s tears and pain and anguish will always be paired with our own, but are rarely-if-ever seen by them because they are no longer there. They are too busy with their hands in their pockets, watching their own children grow.
As it should be.