At one point during the morning, I stood watching her struggle on the balance beam. Even though the beam was no more than two feet off the floor, the fear on her face was clear. Twice, she fell off, and twice she climbed back on. It took all I had to stay put. I wanted to run and rescue her, to save her from the angst of having to do it all on her own.
As I watched, I realized what an incredible gift it is for us, as parents, to let our children fall. To let them fail. Because when we learn to tolerate failure, we also learn to push ourselves towards success. And if we can’t tolerate the thought of failure? If we are paralyzed by the fear of falling? Then we don’t even climb up on to the beam.
Then my little girl got stuck. She reached the end of the beam, and she didn’t know what to do. Her little face crumpled and she started to cry. My mother bear instincts took over and I was at her side in a flash, pulling her into my arms and telling her that she was brave and strong and amazing for having gotten as far as she did.
Those moments on the beam seemed to capture the careful balancing act that we all maneuver as parents. The hardest part of parenting isn’t the long hours or the laundry or the doctor’s visits or the PTA meetings. Not at all. The most challenging part of parenting, at least for me, is the constant struggle between stepping up and stepping back; between pushing our children toward independence and giving them the support they need; between letting them fall, and catching them when they do.
There’s more though. This dichtomy doesn’t just shape my mothering. It also forms the shadow that is the loss of my own mother. It exists at the very heart of what it’s like to live without her here.
What I want you to know is that, on many levels, my life without my mom is so much more than I thought it would be. Losing her was like getting shoved onto that balance beam and left there all alone. At first, I didn’t want to take a step. For a long time, I remained frozen in place. The hand that had always been on the small of my back, guiding me across the beam was suddenly gone. It was terrifying.
When I did take a step, though, what a marvelous step it was. I gained courage and trust in myself. I learned I could wobble, and not fall. I learned I could fall and get back up. Without a safety net, I thrived in ways I could never have imagined. I grew up. I am who I am because my mother is not here.
But. There is still a little girl inside of me. One who sometimes gets stuck on the end of the beam. Whose little face crumples and whose arms reach out to be gathered up and swept into that place of love and safety and all things good again. Except it’s no longer there.
Don’t get me wrong. I have many people in my life who love me. I am lucky that way. I have an ever-present source of support and encouragement from the people who believe in me. I am not without.
Still, I want you to know there will always be an ache for that which I have lost. In all that comes with losing a mother, the most profound is this: There is no longer a safe place to fall.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.”
― Anne Lamott