It began with a trip to meet their friends in the meadow. Then they began biking there and other places just to play. Then, come autumn, they began taking themselves to activities, walking and biking together, and even returning sometimes alone. My daughter came home excited after her first solo journey home from dance class to exclaim that she'd helped some tourists find the lake, on her way!
And now this: they left for dance, today, and came back 5 minutes later. Why? Because the neighbours' nasty biting Rat Terrier was on our driveway, and they couldn't make it past him. So I intervened, and they escaped to dance unharmed. After dance, normally my son would hike up to his acting class and my daughter would return home. But today I heard the bumpety-bump of the garbage can coming back up the driveway, and there they were! They returned early -- both of them! I was a little worried, but soon got their explanation: Dance class was cancelled; the teacher was sick, so they walked home, and stopped to play in the forest - with two of the other girls from their class. They visited those girls' fort, in the forest, and they just hung around and explored.
What this translated to in my mind was: Your children are not your children. In the hour and a half you thought they were dancing, they were actually in some unknown part of the woods, checking out the forts of other children! And here they are - returned safely.
I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear this news!! My children have suddenly both moved on to a new stage of life, which I remember as the happiest time of my childhood: the meeting-friends-in-the-forest-building-forts stage! Oh joy!! I love my memories from this age, and I feel a bit like they've just picked up the torch! This is when I remember catching frogs; when I swam in the creeks and built rafts and dams, when I played Tarzan in and around my many forts with the invasive vines, and I argued over which of them belonged to me and which to my brother or the other kids who built forts in that part of the woods. This was when I went sliding down from the causeway with my friend's sister's jeans on! This was when I had a red and yellow BMX that could get me anywhere. I was free!!
And when I think of who I am inside - the authentic true Emily - I think of this time.
But that was me, and my children are very different from me. I want to imagine that they will do the same things I did in that wilderness, but I know they will have their own discoveries; their own beautiful memories and mountains to climb. I admit to being terrified of my absence in their world (who will pick them up when they fall? who will be with them to know when they need support?) but I am not sad to see my children grow up and out and into the wild without me. I am joyful!
And I cannot wait to see who they will become!
In this time of too much control; of children not allowed to walk home; not allowed to play without supervision or training or 'gear'; when we increasingly expect professionalism from kids with any kind of sporting interest, or we send our kids to "Nature Camp" instead of just letting them out to play, let us let go a little more. Let us let our children know that they are their own greatest protection; that we trust them; that they can speak to strangers and stick up for themselves; that they are strong and courageous. Let them help the tourists find the lakes! Let us let them go with joy, and be the dependable hearth they can return to with their stories of heartbreak and triumph and fear and intrigue, and let us share in the joy of their growing up!
This video went black and I don't have the software to edit it right now, but just play it for the sound. This is my Mum (with accompaniment!) singing Kahlil Gibran's On Children at her retirement party, followed by The Parting Glass.
~ Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but are not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.