My daughter recently celebrated her ninth birthday. As she prepared to blow out her candles, I marveled at the way her sun-kissed hair managed to find the perfect part, sweeping lazily across her forehead despite the rambunctious activities of the day.
As she deliciously considered her ultimate wish, peering right at me with those big brown eyes, I wanted to freeze her—just as she was in that moment—forever.
She tasted the icing on her cookie cake with her pointer finger and then wiped it on her shirt reminding me she is still a child. Thank God, she is still a child.
Did I mention I wanted to freeze her?
Oh yes, I openly admit wanting to keep my children small. I openly admit asking them to ignore their birthdays and stay little … stay little forever.
And I have been chastised for it.
I remember the first time I expressed this desire in a public forum. I was corrected—or scolded, rather—by a well-meaning parent who had children much older than mine. She vehemently disagreed with my longing to keep them young, sternly reminding me that a child’s growth far outweighed the tragic alternative.
Although I knew the reality of her words first-hand through a dear friend’s loss of her child, this woman’s “words of wisdom” ticked me off. I decided then and there I would not allow anyone to tell me how I should or shouldn’t feel about the growth of my children.
I didn’t defend my stance to the woman at the time but over the years I have figured out exactly what I would have said. I call it: “Holding My Children in Time.”
Holding My Children in Time
I vividly remember the first time I felt the desire to “freeze” my child—preserve her JUST as she was in that moment.
She was 15 months old. She walked out to the kitchen to greet me, just like she did every morning. She shuffled along in pajamas with built-in feet—the only kind she wore despite the fact we lived in balmy Florida. And her diaper (which we coolly called a “diap” for short) protruded in the back, tempting my hand to give it a loving pat.
She had a ridiculous amount of jet-black hair that stood up in random directions yet always seemed have the right amount of “puff” when she awoke. My child was happy—always such a happy little morning person that I couldn’t help but be happy, too. And although I was new to this mom gig, I had an unsettling feeling, knowing full well THIS wouldn’t last. She would change. And although my rational mind knew I would love the older version of my beautiful child just as much as this pocket-sized one, my heart hurt knowing I would never see her JUST like this again.
I experienced the same longing again on the eve of her third Halloween. I wanted to freeze her as she swirled proudly in her Snow White costume … how she danced to “Thriller” in our neighbor’s driveway and how we later rolled on the floor laughing uncontrollably from too many Reese’s peanut butter cups and staying up past bedtime. I kissed her chocolate face and swore I never wanted her to outgrow that costume or my arms … ever.
I wanted to freeze her on the first day of kindergarten … the way she let go of my hand at the entrance of the school … how her confident brown eyes looked directly in my eyes as she said, “I will be fine, Mama.” And how she turned and looked back only once before walking into the big, uncharted world without me.
Later, I wanted to freeze her at age seven when she was challenged to a race by older boys from the neighborhood. She flew past the boys on the playground … hair flying and determination etched into her gorgeous face. Suddenly the realization that she possessed the strength and determination to do anything she wanted in life was as clear as her feet were steady.
I have a similar “freeze” list for my younger daughter which includes the first time I heard her sing with the voice of an angel—strumming her tiny ukulele in perfect rhythm with my heart. And that day at the beach when we were unexpectedly knocked over by a playful wave. I literally fought back the tears as she pursed her exquisite pink lips tightly together then happily declared, “Salt water tastes an awful lot like wasabi.”
Yes, I openly admit, I have wanted to freeze my children in time.
But please don’t chastise me.
And please don’t condemn me.
As their parent, this is my right. And in my mind, this is the greatest compliment to Father Time, who I too often fail to appreciate, neglect to cherish—who I too often waste worrying about things that DON’T matter.
In that moment when I take pause and think: “I want to freeze her,” I feel like I am almost stopping time. It is as close as I can get to memorizing a sacred moment like music notes to play over and over again. It is as close as I can get to taking a permanent snapshot with my mind as my eyes well with tears and I say, “Don’t grow up. Be my little one forever.”
So please don’t criticize me for wanting to hold my children in time.
As her parent, this is my right.
So there it is—this is my “defense,” the reasoning behind my desire to freeze my children in time. Although I respect the logical, opposing view, I have always been steadfast in my belief. I have always believed that no one is going to tell me how I can and can’t feel about my babies growing up.
But I was wrong.
Actually there is someone who can—actually there are two people in my life who have the right to tell me how I should (or shouldn’t) feel about my children’s growth. And just the other day, one of those people did.
The subject came up during a one-on-one lunch date between my 5 year old and my mother. In the midst of discussing her upcoming 6th birthday, my child divulged this little bombshell: “My mom doesn’t want me to grow.”
Although my mother gently pointed out that her granddaughter was not traumatized when she spoke these words, nor was she upset, my 5 year old did clearly say, “My mom doesn’t want me to grow up … but I DO want to grow up.”
To say my heart stopped would be an understatement. As my mother relayed this enlightening conversation to me, my hand flew to my gaping mouth and my mind raced with the possible implications of my past actions.
In my staunch belief that I was doing my children a favor by loving them so much I wanted to freeze them in time, I have laid a mighty large burden on their shoulders.
Although my daughter laughed every year when I teasingly said, “Please stay three” or “Let’s just skip birthday #5,” there was conflict in her heart. After all, what child doesn’t want to please her parent? Even at a young age, my child realized that out of anything in the world, she could not give me this. She did not have the ability to stop growing … nor did she want to stop growing.
That evening at our nightly “talk time,” I had some important things say to my child.
I started with, “I am so sorry I have asked you not to grow, to stay little forever. That is not fair of me to ask of you.”
“Why?” she asked with a mixture of surprise and skepticism based on this sudden change of heart from her mother.
I assured her that although it is difficult for me to watch her grow bigger and do more and more things without my help, nothing makes me happier than to watch her get taller, smarter, stronger, and be more independent.
I assured her I would love her at every age: I would love her when she was a 16 year old teenager driving a car; I would love her on the day she got married; and I would love her on the day she got her first gray hair!
And then remembering the power of six simple words, I concluded with: “I love to watch you grow.”
She wrapped her arms around my neck and heaved an enormous sigh in what I felt was a combination of relief and hope for the future. Although my eyes filled with tears, I fought them back and told myself, “She wants to grow. This is okay … in fact, this is GOOD.”
And as if fate knew the Hands Free Mama’s newfound outlook needed to be put to the test, my older daughter asked if she could start a daily exercise regime just like the one I had with my sister when I was in grade school. Instantly, I regretted telling my children (whenever they whined about chores) that one of my summer duties as a child was to walk several times around the block each day.
So as my 9 year old stood there asking if she could start exercising around the block and perhaps take her little sister around the small loop, I mentally practiced my new mantra.
My children want to grow; my children need to grow.
I then swallowed the lump in my throat and agreed. We discussed exactly where they would jog—and although no one seemed to care what I would be doing, I informed them that I would wait in the yard.
As the two ran off together, my palms instantly became sweaty. I reminded myself they were 9 and almost 6 years old. It was time.
Then I waited.
Within a few minutes, my younger daughter came bounding around the corner. Despite the reddish hue from exertion, her face donned a glorious smile that accentuated her achievement.
After describing the details of her “jog,” she reminded me that Big Sister was going do the larger loop and would be back in a few minutes.
So together we waited.
After counting every mosquito bite on my child’s legs and investigating a massive anthill next to the mailbox, I began to wonder why her sister was not back. I watched nervously as a dark cloud edged closer to our vicinity. I alternated glances between the threatening cloud and the street corner, praying I would see a blonde ponytail flying in the wind before the sky opened up.
No such luck.
It began to pour.
I raced inside to get my car keys and assured my now terrified looking 5 year old that we would find her sister.
As I was carefully inching my car from the garage, my older daughter sprinted through the grass and found refuge on the porch. Unfortunately, I did not see her huddled against the door because I was already searching the street with frantic eyes.
Her little sister and I made the full loop and saw no sign of her. I remained calm, assuring myself that she had already made her way back, yet thoughts of pedophiles, distracted drivers, and frantic calls to 9-1-1 began fighting their way in.
As we neared home, I spotted her there on the porch. Other than having a bit of worry in her eyes and being completely soaked, she was fine.
Before my five year old and I could reach her, she was already explaining the rationale for her actions with adult-like maturity.
“I saw you leave to go find me, so I knew it would be best to stay her and not try to run after you.”
And then she turned to her little sister.
That is when I faded into the background.
I watched as the two sisters hugged and shared a moment.
“I was thinking I wouldn’t have a sister anymore … and that made me cry,” whimpered the small one.
Her big sister hugged her and smiled.
“It’s OK. Everything is fine,” she said gulping down any remaining bits of fear in her voice.
She continued enthusiastically with a brief pep talk.
“You did great. I watched you run all the way home. And then I made it all the way around … even in the rain! We’ll do it again tomorrow. Next time we’ll check the weather radar before we go, OK?”
It was one of the most precious sights I had ever laid eyes on in my nine years of being a mother.
But this time I did not think to myself, “I want to freeze them.”
Instead I thought:
I want to let go—a little at a time. I want to let go and watch my children grow
and celebrate achievements big and small.
I want to let go and watch my children grow with joy on my face, gratitude in my heart, and hope in my eyes.
Although unexpected tears may still spring up as I realize with bittersweet emotion that another beautiful stage of her life has passed, I intend to open my hands to the blessings of growth.
I will call it: Letting go of my children in time… in their time.
Because after all, my children want to grow … they need to grow … and I am finding that I am have some growing yet to do, too.
How do you find the balance between holding on and letting go of your children? And what about letting go in other areas of your life? By letting go of the need to control all variables, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to grow in ways we never imagined.
Every day, I am inspired, enlightened, and encouraged by you, the lovely people of ”The Hands Free Revolution“ who graciously come to read my posts. I cherish each and every comment you leave. I’d love to hear your thoughts today!
The Letting Go to Grow by Hands Free Mama, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.