Growing as They Grow
By: Yitti Berkovic
Spring has finally sprung, and summer has begun whispering in my ear.
These days, the glorious sun stays high in the sky well after the kids come home from school, and, yes, bedtime slips further and further from my grasp.
Those same children of mine who only a few months ago were content to stay inside and drag out 15 minutes of homework into four hours of homework, suddenly have an itch to move. To go. To run free, climb trees, scab their knees, and give their mother a hundred-and-one reasons to worry about their safety.
It starts as soon as their school bus pulls up and their feet hit the ground.
With her knapsack still on her back, Tehilla asks, “Can I go to Tzippy’s house? We want to have a jump rope contest.”
“Well, hello to you too,” I answer. “Sounds like fun, but I can’t take you to Tzippy’s house right now – I have to wait for Tzvi’s bus.”
Tehilla’s hands go to her hips.
“I told Tzippy I’d come right away. Don’t worry – I can go to Tzippy’s house myself. You don’t have to take me.”
The two most dreaded words in the dictionary.
Those words alone can spike my blood pressure.
Now my hands go to my hips. “But Tzippy’s house is across the street and around the block. You can’t go alone!”
A flicker of annoyance flits across Tehilla’s freckled face. “I’m old enough to cross the street – all of my friends do. I’ll look both ways at least ten times – stop worrying!”
That’s like commanding a rabbit to stop hopping.
That’s like telling a woman on a diet to stop dreaming about carbs.
It’s what we mothers do.
She wants to cross the street herself?
The cars go so fast.
Plus, she gets lost in her imagination on her way to the bathroom to brush her teeth. How can I let her traipse around the neighborhood alone if her head is somewhere in the clouds?
To her grave disappointment, I insist that she go inside and wait until her brother’s bus pulls up. Then, I assure her, I will be happy to walk her to Tzippy’s house and the jump rope contest can begin.
She stomps into the house with all the third-grade indignation she can muster, calling over her shoulder, “You never let me do anything!”
I feel a stab of guilt, but I wave it away.
I’m her mother!
It’s my job to keep her safe!
But then Tzvi’s bus pulls up, and he immediately ups the ante.
As soon as his feet hit the ground, he calls out, “Ma, when I finish eating supper, can I bike ride to Yitzi’s house?”
Here in Monsey, there are no sidewalks.
Here in Monsey, the streets slope and wind, dip and rise, curve and swerve.
My hilly neighborhood looks like the route for the Tour de France, and let’s face it, my son is no professional biker.
I draw a shaky breath and give him the answer I know he doesn’t want to hear: “Sorry, Tzvi, but I’m really not comfortable with you biking on the street with the cars.”
His face falls.
“But, Ma, there are hardly any cars. And all the boys in the neighborhood are biking there. I can’t be the only one whose mother makes him walk!”
I hear him.
No one wants to be the odd man out.
But I have the perfect solution.
“Why don’t you walk your bike there, so the boys will think you biked there?” I suggest.
“What?” I ask defensively. “If you wear a helmet, they’ll never know!”
Tzvi throws up his hands in frustration. Clearly, he doesn’t think it’s the perfect solution.
I hate seeing him so upset.
I need to help him understand.
“It’s because I love you!” I insist. “I don’t want you to get hurt, chas v’sholom.”
My words offer little comfort.
“My friends’ mothers love them too,” Tzvi says grumpily. “They just trust them more than you trust me.”
His words sink in.
Is this my issue?
Do I owe it to him to trust him more?
But that’s so hard!
Baruch Hashem, in most areas of my life, I don’t consider myself to be an anxious person.
But my kids – those little people who grabbed hold of my heart – they have a way of bringing out all my fears.
I didn’t think I’d be this kind of parent. My mother certainly wasn’t.
She was the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
She grew up with parents whose worldview was colored by trauma and loss. It was torture for them to let their children out of their sight.
Whenever my mother had a school trip, my grandfather would offer to pay her twice as much as the trip’s cost if she agreed to stay home. He just couldn’t stomach the thought of his child off somewhere he could not see, somewhere he couldn’t come running to her rescue.
My mother vowed to raise her children differently. And she did.
I was the first of my friends to be allowed to cross the street or to walk across town. I was the first with permission to take a city bus to the mall or to take a train to Manhattan.
I loved the confidence she had in me.
It made me feel capable and trusted. It helped me believe I could take on the world.
But if my mother was a reaction to her own parents’ overprotective parenting, I guess I am a reaction to my mother’s more laissez-faire approach.
My kids are suddenly old enough to earn some independence, and I, Miss Independent herself, don’t know how to handle it.
So much of parenting is going with my gut, letting my maternal instincts guide me.
Worrying is an instinct too.
And I trust my worry to tell me where to draw the lines in the sand, for when to tell my kids “no.”
But I’m starting to realize that worrying can’t be a guiding force.
Sometimes, I need to listen to my mind over my heart – my mind over my anxieties.
If my kids are ready for it, I need to let them breathe.
They need the freedom to grow up without thinking calamity awaits at every turn (chas v’sholom!), and that will only happen if I don’t color their every experience with my own worries for them.
Let’s try this.
I take a deep breath and read from a brand-new script.
“Yes, Tehilla, you may go to Tzippy’s house, but let’s take a few minutes to practice how we cross the street.”
“And fine, Tzvi, you can bike ride to Yitzi’s house, but let’s go over the rules of the road so you ride safely.”
I did it.
For now, I have quieted my worrying, but I can’t rest on my laurels.
Tomorrow and the next day, im yirtza Hashem, my kids are going to find new ways to test their independence and to test my nerves, and I am going to go through this all over again.
(Do not talk to me about them getting their licenses. I don’t know how I’ll survive that. I guess we’ll cross that street when we get there.)
For now, I need to keep growing as they grow.
I need to conquer my own fears, so they can conquer theirs.
One day at a time.