Rejection happens. It’s a fact of life. I’ve been through it several times before: My senior year boyfriend dumping me the week before prom, going all out for a date only to find out it wasn’t a date because the person I was having dinner with was in fact gay, not being awarded a writer’s grant that I busted my ass on.
But there is nothing quite like the rejection of your eight year old daughter dropping your hand in public.
I’ll admit: I’m a huge fan of independence, most especially in my children. As a person who was raised by a mother who couldn’t handle the idea of her children growing up and their natural progression towards personal independence, I always promised myself when I was the mother, I’d keep the understandable feeling of sadness at my children shifting away from me to myself and instead put on a game face (at least to my kids) of being proud and happy for them.
And you think you know how it will be when the inevitable shift from being the coolest person in your child’s world to just “mom”. You think you’re prepared for it. I’ve been saying for the past two years that I’m stocking up all the “I love you’s” and “Mommy, you’re awesome’s” I can to look back on when Amethyst hits the dreaded teenage years. I knew this day was coming.
I just didn’t think it would come this quickly.
Back when Amethyst was a newborn, in a sleep deprived state I had emailed a friend asking her how long the newborn phase was going to last. When she said, “Three months,” I sobbed at the idea of all those weeks I’d have to get through. But time gave me perspective, as well as showing me what my father constantly told me: “It goes by too fast. Don’t wish your time away.” And for the most part, I haven’t. When my children were babies and would wake up crying in the middle of the night, I’d remind myself that before I knew it, they’d no longer want nothing but the comfort of my arms wrapped around them. I’d rock them during those two a.m. wake up calls, concentrating on their slight weight against my chest, the feel of their soft skin, and how their breath felt blushing across my arm.
I knew this day was coming. I knew. But nothing prepared me for the feeling of “Damn, so soon??!” I felt this morning when taking Amethyst to her first day of third grade. Helping her out of the car, she had taken my hand and held it as we walked to the cross walk. After crossing, she dropped my hand, and when I looked down, surprised, she looked up at me and said, “I’m not little any more Mom.”
My mind went into hyperdrive: “Mom??! MOM?!?!! When the hell did I stop being Momma or Mommy?! When did you get big enough, responsible enough to be able to walk without holding my hand? How in the hell did I get to be thirty-six with a daughter entering third grade and my heart ripped out and thrown on the ground because you’re no longer “little”?!?!?! You were just my baby, and now you take your own showers, brush your own teeth, make your own lunch and now you’re too big to hold my hand? Please, please, PLEASE, I’m not ready… Just give me a few more weeks! Just a few more days, just ONE day where I still get to hold your hand because I love you and you’re my daughter and I want you to grow up, I just don’t want to feel like I’m losing something here!!!”
That’s what my mind was thinking. That’s what I wanted to say. Instead, I smiled at my first-born, patted her back (but not for too long lest the other third graders see it), and walked beside her to her new classroom. When we got to her desk, I asked her if I could take a photo of her on her first day, and she said, “Alright.”
Had Amethyst of told me “no” about taking her picture, I would have respected her wishes and asked to take one when she got home from school this afternoon. Because the first day of third grade is about her, not me. As a parent, you have to weigh what’s necessary and needed against wants. Seat belts, road bike helmets? Those are non-debatable. My daughter walking into school on the first day of the new year without holding my hand? That’s her want.
My own mother often made me feel guilty about wanting what was natural: my own space, my own ideas. She put her need to control and to own in front of my need to find who I was in everything from holding her hand out in public, seeing friends, picking my own clothing, choosing my hair style. I vowed long ago to never put my children in that situation, and as hard as it was to let go, to not throw a tantrum over my daughter growing up and branching out on her own, I’m proud of the fact that what my daughter saw today was a mother who recognized and respected her need to be her own person, to make decisions about what’s right for her. Amethyst will be living her life long after I’m gone, she needs to live her life for her, and no one else, because she is the one who will be in that life.
Me? I’m just the woman who was blessed enough to be given her as a gift, to carry her within me for nine months, carry her in my arms until she was able to walk, and learn to let go of her hand to make her own way. She fell a great deal while learning to walk, and as hard as it was to not hold her up, I knew I had to let go of her hands so she could find her own feet.
There will be more of this to come: When she begins driving, when she moves out for the first time, when she finds her life partner and builds a life that is hers and hers alone. I’m only here to love her, not control her or make those decisions for her, because she needs to learn what is right for her.
I’m proud of myself for letting go, even though I didn’t want to. I’m proud of my daughter for knowing what was right for her and not being afraid to ask for it. And I’m proud that I’ve given her the gift of knowing its okay do go after what you want.
One day, she’ll tell me about how her own daughter dropped her hand. And I’ll laugh, and tell her about the day she dropped mine.