“But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” Barbara Kingsolver
Disney wasn’t lying in The Jungle Book – elephants actually do walk in single file when on the move, for instance while in search of food and water. The calves will sometimes hold on to their mother’s tails with their trunks to keep up, while other female elephants surround them to protect them from danger.
Almost 11 years ago I became a mother for the first time. I can’t even begin to list all the ways it changed me. The person who once proclaimed: I’ll never have kids! has come to realize being a mother to my four children had been mapped out in my heart before I even knew what being a mother meant. In a way I could have never planned. Intricate lines connecting me to my children. Their pain becoming my pain. Their joy becoming my joy.
I’ve read the articles–women professing that they are not defined by motherhood. And while I agree with the feelings that we are more than moms….once I became a mom, it has become part of the air I breathe. No matter where my children are–I will always be a mother. Those invisible roads weaved around my heart will always lead me to them. While we can always hope to be loved in return, motherhood taught me true love is loving with your whole being–pouring love into someone without any expectations of it being returned. You just love.
When my first daughter was born I was overwhelmed with the way motherhood consumed me. I had never been needed so much by a single person in my life. And those beginning years of motherhood often felt like a constant tugging. When you are always needed, it feels as if your children are always hanging on to you. Much like the baby elephant who grasps its mother’s tail–uncertain of the danger around them or how to navigate the world–that baby elephant hangs on to what is familiar. What is safe and protection. What is love. The tugging becomes just one part of motherhood. But one day, just like the elephants, our baby lets go.
In this past year (and maybe I even caught glimpses of it before but wasn’t ready to admit it) I’ve felt her letting go. Sometimes it’s in the smallest of ways–her not letting me brush her hair anymore. This year she started borrowing my bobby pins and would pin her hair to one side–showing more of her face and hold her head in a way that said: I’m trying to be confident but I’m still a little uncertain as I’m finding my footing in this world.
The year of letting go.
I don’t think anyone can prepare you for what it feels like. When the person who has been connected to you from the moment you first looked at her, chooses to let go, you feel shaken. You start to remember what it was like to not be so needed and it feels confusing. Because you are so proud to see them navigate through the world around them, but you are also feeling the longing of needing that familiar tug on you. I’m learning just as my children are constantly growing and changing, the experience of motherhood is as ever-changing as they are. As they let go, you aren’t their whole world anymore, so you step back for them knowing you need to take up less space as they take their steps forward into the world.
As the years go by there is less tugging but my love still pours into her. Because being a mother comes with the understanding that just because you aren’t needed, doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. And my love doesn’t stop because she is tugging less. My love will continue to pour into her. Always.
At almost 11, she still tugs. And I’m grateful for that. I know there is a day coming where I will feel the lightness of her letting go and it will be my turn to reach for her–hoping she never forgets the path between us, as she maps out her own place in the world around her.