My husband and I just returned from a week at the beach. Since we are empty nesters we love the week leading up to Labor Day because school is in session and we practically have the beach all to ourselves.
Our vacation time is a bit slower and more relaxed than it was when we were raising our sons. For me it now includes daily morning walks on the beach. I savor the time to be alone with my thoughts as the sounds of the ocean lull me into a reflective and contemplative state of mind.
This past week I shared my beach walks with parents of toddlers who also have the luxury of vacation time not predetermined by a school calendar. I was fascinated with the sweetest little cherub who sported unruly curly locks and a pink ruffled bathing suit. She insisted on inching her way into the water at a rate much faster than Dad felt comfortable. “Not too far…. not too far,” he cautioned until ultimately he took her hand and pulled her back within his reach.
Further along the shore another parent had taken added precaution to ensure her children’s safety by adding life vests to their swimsuit attire. Surely this would help her keep them out of harm’s way should she lose her grip on their tiny hands.
As parents, it seems we spend so much time in the early years protecting, guarding, cautioning, only to find that long before we are ready, they let go of the hand that raised them and begin inching their way further and further into a new life, unencumbered by parental authority.
We panic because we fear that the waves of life will scoop them up, knock them down, toss them about, and we won’t be there to protect them. But if we have faith, we know that each time they venture further and further out into their own new world they, like the tide, will return, braver, stronger, and more resilient. As parents, that is what we must do. It is part of life’s plan. The rushing tide is what we as parents most fear and yet experience reminds us that it will also provide them with life’s most valuable lessons. And so we watch, sometimes sadly, fearfully, but often proudly as we are comforted by the knowledge that with independence comes great joy!
As I watched these young parents, I reminisced about the many times I struggled as my own sons wandered far beyond my reach…..the day my oldest announced that he was leaving a “safe” position with his employer to pursue a six-month opportunity to live and teach in a remote village in the south of Chile. My heart inwardly cried “not so far…. not so far” as my youngest traveled with his buddies to fulfill their dream of climbing Machu Picchu in Peru. There have been so many times that I wanted so badly to tighten my grip but instead waved goodbye and prayed as they inched further out into life’s tide.
And so, as I ceremoniously walked the beach I said a silent prayer for all my friends who this past week released the hands of their “babies” and watched them inch out into the seas of their new lives. For some, it was kindergarten. Others, college. Some parents are feeling the flood of conflicted emotions that come with facing that empty nest. I know from experience that as they released the hand they once protected, they smiled and said “I’m proud of you…..have fun” but their hearts whispered “hold tight.…not so far…. not so far.”
But as certain as the tide recedes, it will eventually return. And so will our children, exuberant from having danced the tide. And when that happens we too will celebrate because it means we did our job.