Two recent experiences with my kids have me thinking again about the idea of release, or letting go. Our youngest daughter Katie is 16 years old, and ready to head off to college, in spite of the fact she is only in her junior year of high school. She began combing through the pages of her older brothers’ college guidebooks as a freshman. Since taking the ACT test in December, our mailbox has been flooded with college mail for her, and she faithfully studies every offer. So it came as no surprise to me that she was ready to begin college visits as a junior, rather than waiting until her senior year.
So this week we took advantage of her spring break and headed out on a road trip to Chicago, with Wheaton College in the northwest suburbs as our primary destination. I walked alongside her as we toured, listened to her responses to questions asked, and felt the familiar ambivalence of pride and delight in the young woman she is, alongside the impending sense of loss and sadness that my sweet baby girl will soon be gone. In the car on our ride home, she said with a hint of teasing in her voice, “You know mom, pretty soon I’m going to leave for college, and then after that I’ll get a job in a big city and move away forever.”
“Thanks a lot, that’s really what I want to be thinking about right now,” I protested.
“But mom, I’m only telling you this because I love you.”
“Well, if that’s what you say when you love me, I’d hate to hear what you’d say if you didn’t!” I replied.
Not one to let things get too serious, she quipped, “Then I’d say I’m going to live in your basement forever!”
The laughter we shared together was good, and yet close on its heels was my awareness of the level of tension that seems to permeate my interactions with my daughter these days. I can feel her testing her independence, testing her voice, her ideas, and her power to affect decisions…pushing against the constraints of another woman in her space as she is struggling to become a woman herself. The tension exists because I do know my daughter loves me, we share a bond that feels truly redemptive on many levels for me, and yet, that closeness is more often interrupted these days by flashes of dismissal and disagreement…testing.
With our older children already out of the house, I know well enough that it is time for more letting go. As I pondered that idea, I looked up the definition of release, and this one really hit home to me:
Release: to allow (something) to move, act, or flow freely
To allow something, or rather someone, to move, act, or flow freely. That is what Katie is pushing towards, and it requires movement on my part as well. Opening my hand that wants to hold her close, keep her young and protected, release her to flow freely. There is a beauty in those words that makes my heart think it just might be worth it, in order to see what she becomes with such freedom.
It’s probably a good thing that our children came in the order they did, that Katie, with her commitment to calling things as she sees them, is an everyday reminder that I haven’t quite mastered the art of release yet. In the years since our boys have been away at college, I’ve progressed through tearful goodbyes, anxious texts asking to check in, strongly held expectations about time spent with family on school breaks, and moved to a space of responding more often than checking up, of enjoying different conversations about the things they are learning and growing a passion for, and gratitude for their strength as men as they make their own choices and decisions.
I was feeling particularly proud of myself for my enthusiastic response to our son Matthew’s acceptance of a summer job working for the US Forestry Service in Alaska. In the days following his job offer, he told me details about the remote living situation, the necessity of first aid training as serious injury in Alaska frequently ends in death, and the equally important training on dealing with bears and other dangerous wildlife. I held myself well, marveling inside at what an amazing opportunity this will be for him, perfectly fit to his love of adventure and the wilderness. I admit I was figuratively patting myself on the back; I had this release thing down.
Until I didn’t, a reality that became all too clear during a tense conversation last week about the feasibility of his desire to buy a car and drive the 3000 miles to Alaska rather than fly. While I had all kinds of practical considerations for him to consider that were important on some level, the bigger truth was that he wanted to have the conversation man-to-man with his father. He needed to know what another man, who also loves wildness and adventure, thinks about his desire. And I needed to allow Matthew to move, act, flow freely; I needed more practice releasing.
While these spaces with my children are painful, and everything in me wants to be done with the struggle, I can honestly say I was grateful for the reminder last week that I have more to let go of. It is a reminder of my need for a Wild Jesus, a Jesus who is always about releasing and movement and freedom.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.