I’ve had reason to do a lot of reflection this week, so I hope you’ll indulge me a bit of nostalgia.
It was a hot July day, in an era before cell phones, texts and GPS, when I allowed my oldest child to go somewhere on her own for the first time. She was six years old. We lived in a rough South Saint Louis neighborhood at the time; three blocks north of the Mississippi River. The tavern across from our flat had been the location of a shooting in recent months. It was a low-rent area where general mayhem festered. Musician Daughter was relegated to the fenced front yard, except when riding her bike, a sky-blue beauty with white tires. Being penned up frustrated her, so when she was allowed to she rode her bike up and down the sidewalk with independent glee. I hovered on the stoop watching her like the mother hawk I was.
We had one of those mini-marts on the opposite corner of the end of our block. I announced a walk to the mart for ice cream and began looking for shoes to put on the little ones. Musician Daughter volunteered for the umpteenth time that SHE could get the ice creams for me. What made this time different from the others I’m not certain. Decision time: hold on, or let go? The tension in my chest increased as she reached the cross street. Would she look both ways? Would the nice Lebanese man who owned the store be too busy to let her count out the change? Would she get scared? I’ll never forget her triumphant smile as she marched back down the sidewalk, bag of ice cream bars in her hand. Now about 24 Julys later she and her husband will cross another road and welcome their first child into the world.
Poet Son was about two years old the first time I can remember his plaintive cry of “Holdies! Holdies!” after a tumble on the concrete patio. It was a warm summer day where we lived on a military base in Southern California. Poet Son’s arms flailed and marble-size tears rolled off his flushed cheeks as I bent to pick him up. Some hugs, a bandage and a word of encouragement and he toddled back out to play. The falls, scrapes, bruises and stitches have been too numerous to count, but he always bounced back and stood on his own. Twenty-one years later he is the one who offers encouragement to those who need it. He’ll be moving to another state in four weeks to finish his degree.
On a muggy Saturday in July about twenty years ago I heard one of the worst sounds a mother could hear: the repeated thud of a baby walker hitting stair after stair to the bottom. An even worse sound after that: silence. Two little feet dangled in the air as I ran down the stairs, then stayed limp as I cradled Artist Daughter in my arms. My grip tightened as whispered prayers became thundering declarations rising from deep in my soul that I would never let her go. Prayers manifested as the doctor declared her the miracle that she was. Two days from now she will walk down the aisle to be married.
Knowing when to hold on and when to let go is one of the trickiest things for parents. Too tight, and it becomes a stranglehold, too loose and the path is lost. The relationship is in a constant flux as it strives for balance and redefines itself.
What has this got to do with writing? Not a whole lot, except the admonition to stop fussing over the minutiae and write the story already. Stop fussing over whether your ‘baby’ can cross the street at twenty. Be confident that when your story ‘grows up’ you will be able to let it go and release it to the world, albeit with that tense lump in your chest. Don’t strangle your story because it is not ‘perfect’ and revise and overwrite until it is unrecognizable and you can’t stand each other anymore. Know when to revise and when to let it be. How will you know when you’ve reached that point? Practice, more practice and doing what’s in your heart. You’ll be satisfied and proud and still worry from time to time. Just like parenting. 🙂
Question: How have you dealt with writing ‘babies’ leaving the nest? How about your human babies? Any advice?