We all know that smoking will decrease your life expectancy.  Eating nothing but junk food also contributes to a shorter life span.  Ditto drugs, drinking too much and hanging out with Mary Kate Olsen.  But has anyone ever done a study comparing the life expectancy of the childless vs. those with children?  One must exist but I don’t feel like googling it.  The point is, I’m pretty sure my children are slowly killing me.  My chronic anxiety, occasional chest pain and abundant gray hairs can attest to it.  Look at the evidence.  Before kids:  carefree, spontaneous and my natural hair color.  After kids:  constant worry, little time to chill, and a stockpile of L’Oreal Excellence Creme in Dark Chocolate Brown.  NOT a coincidence.

As I write this, my five year old is out on the front porch asking “Mommy, do you want to see me fly?” What say what?!!  Being that we all know how that scenario usually plays out,  I have to respond, “Not now dear, I have to check our health insurance policy first.”  (Fortunately, upon further investigation, Sophia was merely playing with a broom and pretending to be a witch.  Not that she hadn’t been planning to launch off the porch steps, but once I gave her my attention for 5 seconds, she was on to the next activity…looking for a hammer and nails.  See why I’m a basket case with that kid?)

At the same time, my ten year old is galavanting around town on her bike, along with her new school chums.  While I’m thrilled that she has so quickly made new friends here, I am still struggling to adapt to this more laid back lifestyle here–especially when “laid back” applies to parenting.  I realize I may have the cord still a bit too tightly wound around my kids, but I don’t yet feel 100% comfortable with my young daughter taking off on a bicycle in a town she doesn’t really know yet.  Besides the fact that she has never even ridden a bike beyond the strict confines of our old cul-de sac.  Back in NC, I never did progress beyond the “stay where I can see you” stage.  Blame it on too much tv news or whatever, but I always thought that as long as she stayed close I could keep her safe.  Today, I struggle with the simultaneous desire to keep my child safe and the wish to see her be confidant enough to strike out on her own once in awhile.  Apparently all her friends here ride their bikes everywhere.  Indeed, her friends rode their bikes to our house from their houses, 18 blocks away! (My sheltered, suburban subdivision-living, narrow-viewed, paranoid self is showing isn’t it?)  Granted the streets here are quiet.  There are wide bike lanes and the speed limit on the side streets is only 25.  Crime here is virtually unheard of (though ironically, the most prevalent crime in LBI is bike theft.)  It’s nice to see Emma excited to do something out on her own (she’s a bit of a momma’s girl–shocker) and it is a good way for her to learn some responibility.  It’s a good trust builder.  BUT.  That little voice of self-doubt creeps up.  Just because the other parents allow it, does that make it ok? (If they all jumped off a bridge…)   But if I don’t let her go, she’ll be the outcast whose overprotective mom won’t let her do anything.  If I do, I’ll be worried the whole time and never forgive myself if anything were to happen.  The whole thing is giving me hives.

And then I realize that this decision will be only the first of many that will be an act of “letting go.”  Come to think of it, we commit many small acts of “letting go” throughout our kids’ infancy and toddlerhood don’t we?  These all involve letting go of control–we let them make a huge mess so they can learn to feed themselves for example, letting go of our need to keep things neat and tidy.  We let go when we drop them off on their first day of preschool or their first playdate.  I guess I am gradually learning that to be a good parent, I must let go.  I need to to this to teach our children to stand on their own two feet.  It is my job to raise my children to be independent from me, even if that means abandoning my comfort zone.  It is for the greater good of giving my child the chance to prove she is capable and trustworthy.  It is just so hard!  In all these instances of “letting go”,  I am letting go of a small piece of my heart too.  Anytime I say “see you later” to my children, they take a bit of my heart with them.  There is a saying that goes something like “When you have a child, you have your heart walking around outside your body.”  I find myself feeling this way almost every day.

Today, Emma saying “see you later”, as she rides off into the big, bad world, introduces a new, scarier, aspect of letting go.  Before, it was always me who would do the leaving, and the children were always in the care of others whom I knew and trusted.  Now all of a sudden we have a new milestone (one I don’t think they have a babybook page for) and it’s my child who is doing the leaving.  Now she’s not only taking a piece of my heart as she rides off, but she’s leaving me with something else–worry.  I always worry of course, but this is a more acute, scenario-specific worry.  My child, who has never ridden a bike more than a block away, is now being allowed to ride many blocks, where I can’t see her or protect her.  What kind of mom lets her child ride off with strangers into a strange land? Full of cars?  Cars that are bigger and faster than a bike?!   Well, according to my new neighbors, the regular old good kind.  (But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s also the insane kind!) 

So I sit here writing this, trying to distract myself while taking deep breaths.  Hmm.  They never tell you that your Lamaze breathing is actually only useful AFTER the delivery.  Or that the easiest part of parenting is when you’re still pregnant.  Or that yeah, they’re awfully cute when they’re babies, but just like puppies and kittens, they GROW UP.  I wish that someone had told me that not only will I need a savings account for college, orthodonture and Abercrombie and Fitch, but one for anxiety meds and hair coloring treatment for myself! 

They did warn me however, not to take their infancies for granted.  “Don’t blink,” people would tell me as I pushed my babies in their stroller.  “They grow up so fast.”  I just never believed it until now.