Letting Go of the String
See that photo there to the left? Those swings that are way way up in the sky? My child is up there. My little five year old. No matter that her daddy is up there with her. No matter that thousands of kids go on this ride every day, uneventfully, ones who are just as small as Maya. I still watched the swings go up with my heart in my throat. I still gave her a thumbs up and a grin that said "This is going to be AWESOME!" but what I was really thinking is "OH - MY - GOD! MY CHILD IS GOING TO FALL OUT OF THAT SWING AND PLUMMET TO HER DEATH!"
Maya thought it was the greatest ride she had ever been on, ever! Matthew, on the other hand, was pretending to scream and laugh, while tightly gripping her arm the whole time and counting the seconds until they were back on solid ground. These are the things we do as parents.
I knew that there was no way my five year old was going to fall out of those swings. I am fully aware of safety regulations and height requirements and inspections and the fact that this amusement park in Coney Island's entire livelihood is based on the fact that kids do not fall out of their rides. All of this logical knowledge does nothing, however, to fight the absolute terror that grips me as I watch Maya's tiny dangling feet drift up into the cloudless sky.
There is a small amusement park in Beach Haven, NJ where we spend one week every August with our extended family. When Maya was three we thought it would be fun to take her there and have her try rides for the first time. She was overstimulated, overtired, and terrified of everything we put her on. But by the time she was four she had learned that merry go rounds and little fire trucks that drive in circles are actually a lot of fun. Soon after, she discovered heights and speed and that awesome feeling in the pit of your stomach that goes with these things She is tall enough for most rides now and I am sure this summer she will want to go on everything. Alone.
Many mommies swear that red wine and Cosmopolitans were created to make bedtime more tolerable. (Which they absolutely do!) Perhaps a happy little buzz would take the edge off of this too?
It is not just about letting her go on rides that take her far away from where my fingers can grasp her. It is about doing so with a smile on my face, about strapping her in with a high five that says "You can do this! You are so ready for this! You will have a blast and nothing bad will happen to you!" In other words, it is about having a really good poker face, a face that does not in any way betray the fact that you are about ten seconds away from vomiting all over your shoes. (For the record, I didn't.)
In my opinion this is what parenting is all about; sending your kid off somewhere that scares you without ever letting them see how you feel. Dropping them off at pre-k. Letting them cross streets alone. Dating. (Oh my lord, dating?!?!) Cloaking them in the cozy belief that not only will mommy and daddy be there to comfort them if they fall, but that they can comfort themselves. That they can pick themselves up. There is no greater gift to give a child than the confidence that they do not need you anymore.
(Also, really tight restraints on rides help. Like straight-jacket tight. If her face is turning blue, that's good, that's a safe ride!)
Of course Maya is only five. She does not cross streets alone yet. She does not date boys (or girls?) yet. (And won't until she is 30, not if her daddy has anything to say about it.) But she does go into public bathrooms by herself. She does run around the playground with her friends while I plant my butt firmly on a bench and try not to cringe when she climbs up way above my head. She does go on rides that make me want to burst into tears, momentarily overwhelmed by how little control I actually have, over everything.
One time, about a year ago, Maya was walking home from her friend's birthday party with a bright red balloon tied to her wrist. She loved that balloon, had all kinds of plans for what she was going to do with it once she got it home. So of course, while skipping happily across the street, the lazy knot I had tied at the party (while simultaneously trying to wrangle her into her coat and shoes) came undone and the balloon made a hasty escape into the Brooklyn sky. Maya, predictably burst into tears. I hugged her tightly, apologized for my shoddy knot tying skills and then quietly pointed out how pretty the balloon looked bobbing up there among the clouds.
Parenting is like that.
For the record, I am so not ready for roller coasters that go upside down.
Which, when you think about it, is really the same thing.