Life Unwound: And then they fly away

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“Good parents,” Dr. Jonas Salk said, “give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them.”

As a young mom, I vowed to raise children to feel grounded in family and prepped to soar. After their births, we swaddled them in tight, safe blankies. We snuggled as we read “Goodnight Moon” five or six times each night: repetition deepens roots. Our daughter and son cuddled into the coziness of our laps, burrowed in our hugs. We granted showers of kisses and the gift of a good strong starting place.

To build habit in tiny flights, I’d give choices. For kiddies’ lunches, I’d say, “you can have PB&J or tuna sandwiches.”

Having sprouted young wings, they’d chorus for “Annie’s mac ‘n’ cheese.”

They’d scurry underfoot while I tried to cook up a supper stir-fry, and I’d say, “Guys, whoa, too loud. Would you rather play outside or in the basement?”

They often chose neither. They’d say, “Here.”

I’d say, “here is not a choice.”

We felt the tug of our “please do it this way” and their free-spirited “you’re not the boss of me.”

Though she had a deep heart for home, at age 9, our daughter snubbed both the meatloaf and the alternative yogurt offered for dinner. She “ran away” to the family across the street crying, “Peg is a nice mom. She’s letting them eat pizza.”

In elementary school, they had lots of same-age friends who zipped from house to house, and echoed into doors and windows, “neighborhood games, neighborhood games.” Swarms of pals rallied in a vacant lot for a mix of team sports they knew and competitions they made up. Childhood rituals anchor kids.

Then middle school. My husband and I would return from a matinee and 5 p.m. dinner to find the soft living room sofa and upholstered chairs transformed into props in a set for their theatrical productions. They’d flip all furniture upside down, cover it with Garfield-the-Cat sheets and bath-size towels, and dot the room with magic marker signs like, “Ten Minutes ’til Showtime.”

Our son played the lead. Our daughter wrote scripts and acted as side-kick and producer. The babysitter, their stagehand, directed and managed lighting with flashlights and turning lamps on and off. They’d rehearsed all afternoon and now clapped, “We have an audience. We have an audience.”

We’d laugh and cheer, “Wow, you came up with this by yourselves. Look what you’ve created.”

Yes to inspired thinking.

But during their teen years I thought, “I trained you to question social rules, think outside the box, grow problem-solving minds and tap into your own brains. Now you want to produce the nude scene in ‘Hair’? And lobby town officials to perform it on the steps of City Hall? You’ll stage a protest if they say no? What else? Oh, you have to sleep at your friend’s house during finals because their folks are away and their place will be quiet? I taught you to look at this world wide-eyed and now you don’t see like me?”

To most impasses, I’d say, “Talk to me about your thinking here. Tell me your thoughts.”

That inquiry has rolled with them through time. They now call us with, “I want to ask you something. Can you help me think about this?”

Roots and wings and roots again. Tied to family, stretching away, checking back. Now my children, in their mid-30s, live elsewhere and bustle with pastimes to which we say, “huh?” Triathlons? Really? Cross-fit? Never.

This Thanksgiving, both of my adult children have their own plans. Our daughter and her young family flew for the long weekend to a warm island. “Good to get away,” she said.

Our son will don his chef’s apron for a new work project in Minneapolis. “It’s so exciting,” he said.

They’ll call, though. They’ll call.

Falmouth author Susan Lebel Young is a retired psychotherapist and mindfulness teacher. She can be reached at sly313@aol.com or at www.susanlebelyoung.com.

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