An edict politely disguised as a request from my ten-year-old who has been ensconced in middle school for all of seven weeks, a boy who, for the last six weeks, insisted I be no more than ten feet away from the door from which he is dismissed lest panic—his, not mine—ensue.
The characteristic parental emotions bubbled in response, of course—simultaneous feelings of loss and pride as I continually parent myself–proudly, selflessly–into obsolescence, believing the less my child needs me the more heartily I can pat myself on the back.
It’s the purported and ultimate goal of the parent-child relationship: instilling, empowering, then, finally, the release. Self-sufficiency, independence. Exhale.
Except though my son sought a semblance of release this week, I realized he didn’t actually say he didn’t need me; he didn’t ask me to walk away.
He asked for some distance. He asked me to stand behind the fence.
Farther away but where he can still see me.
And as I stood behind the fence this week, where he asked me, now needs me, to be, I watched my son each day as he exited the building—looking oh-so-briefly to his left where I was standing, then straight ahead—newly minted with all the confidence a new middle-schooler can possibly muster, bolstered by the distance and the safety of the distance he created.
He has put me in the periphery and will continue to do so. My ego could be crushed or strengthened. Black or white. Either or.
But parenting doesn’t seem to work like that.
Because he also needs to know I am in the periphery, needs to know where and how to find me.
That if he needs to look to his left—or his right or behind or in front of him—I will be there.
He needs to know he can count on me—today and in the future, before, during, and, yes, even after the release.
Because as much as I want my sons to be independent and self-sufficient, I also want the world to be able to count on them, to be the people others turn to.
And just as importantly I want them to be able to turn to others when they need support.
Independence is laudable, but negotiating this world without each other isn’t.