We have known each other since I was pregnant with my Jacob and her little girl was not even yet toddling about. Her son and my son were very good friends when they were little boys. The children's friendships have not remained as close, but she and I have been comarades in arms over the last 18 years.
We got to talking about this crazy process of parenting and how each new stage brings both new challenges and new rewards. Now as we enter the process of our children becoming adults, we are both finding that some of the challenges are much different than we could have ever imagined, and we look forward to the hope of reward with great anticipation.
Both of us know a man who ran the "Iron Man" Race. I can't even fully comprehend all that he accomplished, but I know he swam a long way, then he roade a bike a long way, and then he ran what I believe is the equivelant of a marathon at the end. As we were chatting, it occurred to me that parenting is a lot like an Iron Man race, but in reverse, so I better refer it to the Iron Mom.
When our kids were babies and on into their toddler years, it was a LOT like running a marathon. Very literally I felt like I was on my feet and running around after them constantly. Younger and stronger I weathered that part of the race better with Jacob than I did when my younger two tag teamed me (my friend ran with the tag team her first time out.) Moving constantly there was barely time to come up for air. Like the Iron Man runner who just grabs a glass of water and continues running, that's how those early years felt. Constantly on the heels of my kids monitoring every step, where they were, what they were doing, ready to correct or collect them, whichever needed be.
As the kids grow older it's like transitioning into the "bike ride." We back away, no longer on top of them. Riding together sometimes they get ahead of us, sometimes they fall behind, it is in this stage that they begin to make their own way, but on the clearly marked path we have set before them. There is no wide path to stray, the road is clearly marked and though they may be pedaling much on their own, we are never far enough to miss a fall, and there is very little confusion for them about where they are supposed to be or what they're supposed to be doing. There is a lot of pride in them in this season of life (whereI consider my younger two kids to be now) as they begin to grow, rise to challenges, learn to accept consequences, and begin to make decisions for themselves.
What you don't really realize until you get there though, is the "parenting your child" process ends at the "swim." It's a strange and sometimes scary process as you begin to step into the "water" of parenting an adult.
Jake turned 18 in February, and truly that is where their feet first get wet. 18 is a scary age. I often describe it as "way too much power, and not nearly enough wisdom." Even the wisest of 18 year olds is still 18, still struggles with the decption of their own invincibility and lack of experience. No matter how much they think they know, or how much you have tried to impart to them in their heads, wisdom only comes when knowledge is practiced. That's the big step of this process.
Unlike the "bike ride" of parenting, the track is no longer clearly defined, as the "commencement" ceremony of graduation happens, you truly are releasing your children into a new beginning (hence the term commencement.) And unlike the ability to stay along side them on that bike path, the ocean is wide and deep and the ability to stay alongside them disappears, and rightfully so. But it is a difficult transition none the less.
I look at my son, who is a kind and compassionate (gulp) man, who still has a lot of uncertainty about where his drive and desire may lead him, knowing that the "ocean" is full of peril and strife, and I can only hope. Instantly as a parent you are "demoted" to an advisory position in the life of the child you have poured so much into for the last eighteen years. And they cannot even comprehend what a big day this commencement is for you. And you cannot make them understand.
The truth is, I don't think we actually even get into the ocean with our children as they begin to swim. In reality I believe we find ourselves standing on the shore, having the better view of what lies ahead than they are capalbe of from their perspective. We watch, "biting our nails" seeing the sharks that seek to destroy them, recognizing the danger of the rocks that the waves try to push them upon. But also from this perspective, we see the strength that was built (or wasn't) in the process of both the run and the ride that led them here.
Like the waves, as we watch, we will find our pride and concern both ebb and flow, swell and recede. Our kids are swimming. This is the part of the "race" we have spent their whole lives trying to help prepare them for. It's the time to move to higher ground, take our nail bitten hands out of our mouths and cheer them on. Yes, sometimes the shout may be a warning of "Look out!" or "Be careful!" But it is a moment where we must release them, let them swim, this is their opportunity to thrive, to shine and to amaze us with the power and strength.
It isn't easy, but it's right. Bless them as they climb into the water. Believe for them as they venture out. Pray for them as they swim away. This is the moment, the one you started thinking about the very first day you held that little one.
The race of the Iron Mom is never over, but it turns out it is a relay, and this is the place where you must pass the baton. I'm blowing my Jacob kisses as he swims out into the world. Going to head back to the track where my younger two are riding and life isn't so nearly uncertain, but my heart stands on the side of the ocean, cheering. "I believe in you Jacob, go take on the world!!!"