I’m currently at the tail end of a 10 day road trip across Newfoundland with my husband and three children (aged 10, four and a half, and a month shy of two). It has been wonderful and challenging. We saw humpback whales, puffins, dolphins, seals eating terns, more puffins, and massive ice bergs. My delightful middle child projectile vomited his fish and chips across the lobby of the poshest hotel we stayed at, just before we went out on a whale watching trip (and funnily enough no-one else on the trip looked at us or spoke to us after that).
Throughout this trip my husband and I have discussed how our exuberant and brilliant 10 year old daughter Perdy has become so mature that she is an absolute delight to travel with. She is fun and engaged and engaging, and up for anything. There have been opportunities for her to step outside of her comfort zone on this trip, and she has eagerly taken every single one.
Twice in the past 10 days I have almost said no to her doing things, because these things were potentially deathly dangerous. On Wednesday we went whitewater rafting with her four and a half year old brother. It was a gentle run, but he was not into it, so I ended up sitting on the rocks while I let Perdy continue with the guide to the class three rapids, the most dangerous on this trip. I watched in terrified admiration as she paddled into the rapids with the guide, screamed with delight, and asked to do it again. She told me that whitewater rafting was the best fun ever.
Today we went out to the top of the cliffs at Elliston to observe puffins. There were no fences or railings around the clifftop, just 60ft drops onto the rocks or ocean below. I wanted to say she couldn’t go close to where the puffins were, but watched as she crawled on her belly to within 4ft of the edge. I trusted that she was mature enough not to do anything stupid, and she didn’t. She did have a male puffin rush her, flapping his wings to tell her to back off, and saw one just a foot away from her face as a consequence. She was giddy with excitement, and the risk had given her that.
I know that if I want her to want to be outside more than I want her to be on her phone or iPad, I have to give her opportunities outside that are going to test her limits and allow her to grow. The risk is part of that, and although that doesn’t need to include whitewater rafting or the potential to fall off cliffs, I can see her need to try these things, and her need for me to trust her.
It isn’t always easy to let go though. Especially when we are always being told that such bad things will happen if we do, that we’re setting our kids up to be kidnapped or worse if we let them walk home alone from school. I worry all the time.
This afternoon we ate lunch at a cafe in St Johns, and I watched my darling girl devour a proper grown up meal (no more ordering off the kids’ menu for this one) I felt a weird pang of something. Like I miss the child she was, and wonder how I already have this preteen with the same size feet as me and a huge thirst for everything. She told me that she was going to use the washroom, and I said I’d come with her. She rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, I can find the washroom.”
I said no, I’m coming. “It’s up two flights of stairs and there could be someone up there.” As she closed the washroom door, I said, “You know it’s not you I’m worried about, it’s other people.” And that’s true, because I trust her, I really do. I trust that she is making good decisions based on the life experiences that she is soaking up like a sponge, trusting in her own ability to make those decisions because she is given the space to learn for herself.
This letting go isn’t easy though. It is a test for me as much as for her. And I cry at the thought of her going to sleep-away camp next week (despite the fact she went last year), and I sob heavy tears at the idea of her actually leaving to travel the world or go to university. An older woman told me last year that when her daughter went to university, she felt like she’d lost an arm, and I am convinced that is how it will feel for me too. Even typing this is making my eyes prick with tears, so I should stop, but there are so many feeling attached to her being more independent, and me letting her be this wonderful adventurous girl, and I guess I have to just love all of them, fear included, because this is what is making her so uniquely her.
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