I have two school-aged kids. They’re six and four years-old, so I suppose that makes them close in age. But to me, they seem worlds apart.
We walked to school one morning last week, during the last week of school. And, like most mornings, my 4 year-old daughter held my hand the entire way, happily chatting to me about her day as the class helper. My 6-year old daughter bounced and hopped ahead excitedly, talking about caterpillars and butterflies and all the other wonderful things they were learning about in class.
With every step we took, she skipped and hopped a little further away. And with every skip ahead, she seemed more and more grown up to me.
I marvel at how much she seems to know now.
I’ve somberly noticed that she seems to need me less and less every day.
At the school yard, my daughters were greeted by the happy, excited little faces of their friends. Smiling and laughing, they all ran around the blacktop until the bell rang.
When every child started to scatter at the alarmingly loud sound of the bell, my 4 year old turned around to find me. I watched her perfect little face, scanning and searching the crowd with a slightly concerned look flashing across it until she spotted me.
I could see the relief in her tiny features as a smile spread across her face. She stopped in her tracks and waved madly at me. Like her day couldn’t begin until I returned the wave. The silent acknowledgement that I see her. I’m watching.
After her little backpack disappeared through her classroom door, I turned to find my 6 year old daughter – my hand raised halfway up into the air, ready to wave. To show her that I saw her, too.
But she wasn’t looking for me. Her tall, confident back carried her into her classroom, her face scrunched up in delight as she laughed at whatever 6 year old little girls laugh about together.
And then she was gone. The school yard was mostly silent.
Parenting seems to be this journey of watching. Watching them grow. Watching them reach milestones. Watching to make sure they don’t hurt themselves when they’re toddlers. Watching them in amazement at the things they can do.
And they spend a lot of their time watching you, too. Watching to see that you’re watching. As they take their wobbly first steps. Or watching as they master the art of riding their bike. That you notice them.
One day you realize that they’re grown.
One day you realize they’re no longer turning to look for you any longer.
It’s bittersweet, that moment. As parents, we know that we’ve done our jobs. Our kids are growing and changing and becoming more confident. There is a time for everything. And one of those things is becoming their own people.
My daughter is only 6-years old, so I know I have many, many more years of being needed. But after 6 long years of dressing, feeding, wiping, carrying and holding – I wasn’t quite ready for no more watching and waving.
That night we went to swim lessons. My daughter is a bit tentative in the water. But that night, she felt brave. She jumped into the pool from the edge without a second thought. And as I watched her from the side of the pool, I smiled to myself at how much she’s changed.
When she came up to the surface, I saw her sputter and spit water, as she whipped her body around. She was turning to look for something.
She was turning to look for me.
I raised my arm high in the air and madly waved it back and forth at her. I smiled with my whole face. I gave her the thumbs up. I wanted her to know without a shadow of a doubt.
I still see you, too.
I’m still watching.