Lately, I keep thinking back to a dance class my oldest daughter took when she was four. It stands out in my mind as one of my early parental blunders. She didn't want me there, you see. It was an “all by myself” moment which I failed to honor.
From my lap, she had turned and whispered, “I don't want you to watch.”
I remember sitting in a chair outside of the dance studio, watching mothers enter with their daughters as I stirred my feelings of jealousy. “I'm paying for the class,” I reasoned. “She’s my kid. I deserve to watch.”
I also remember the look on her face when she spied me there, hiding at the back of the room near the doorway. It completely erased the delight I had felt at watching her dance. In that moment, I was transformed into someone she couldn’t trust, and to come entirely clean with her about my emotions and desires seemed the only option.
Truthfully, it broke my heart a little, but I also understood that it wasn’t really a rejection. She was simply saying that she was prepared to go this one on her own... as she would be prepared, over the years, to try many things I may or may not have enjoyed watching.
“I messed up,” I told her clearly. “This was my error, my selfishness. Though it may have felt that way, it had nothing to do with a lack belief that you could do this thing on your own.”
Until last year, when she started college, she’d never been in a traditional school setting. That decision, which originated with me, had given us ample hours together. Some mothers cringe when they think of time with teenaged girls, but I have no regrets. That conversation we started having when she was four and I screwed up at dance class? We are continuing it still.
I had expected to experience a bit of heartbreak when she decided to try college full-time. The change wasn't necessarily easy for her. As an unschooler accustomed to taking charge of her own time and planning her days and weeks to meet her own agenda, she had some struggles with “someone else” making so many demands on the way she filled her calendar. I honestly wasn’t sure she would commit to continue past the first semester.
But now we had more to talk about than ever before. For those first few weeks of college, in fact, I remember having this feeling that we had returned to that hand-in-hand place. Though she was more frequently gone, when she was at home we were often in the same room and interacting with an intensity that hadn’t existed between us since she was young enough to need me for things like reading directions and reaching the projects on the highest shelf. She was constantly filling me in on her experiences and observations. She was full of questions and eager for my input.
Today I’m generally comfortable standing on the sidelines or completely leaving the room when asked. I recall from my own childhood that it was sometimes easier to be brave, bold, and experimental when my mother wasn't around.
She knows I’m her biggest fan and supporter. But she also knows that I trust her and will listen when we disagree. When she says, “I've got this,” I know now to walk away, to keep my opinions to myself, and to leave her needs above my wants.