I’ve been listening to “Anybody Have a Map” on repeat the last few days. Sung by two different mothers in Dear Evan Hansen, they both exclaim in frustration, “I can’t find my way to you…I’m making this up as I go.” And when you and I, m’hijo, watched videos of DEH the morning of your trip, we both sobbed when these mothers and fathers worry about their kids–about their inability to completely, wholly take care of their kids.
A lot of early life felt very mapped: elementary school, high school, college, and then, in my case, grad school. I know that figuring out where you want to go to college is the big unknown right now, but it is an unknown destination (X) within a set of pre-mapped options. That choice is daunting (because choice in general is daunting), but, believe me, it’s manageable. And you will be ok no matter where you go. So it might not be until you finish college that you hit the big moment where you’re having to look beyond the edges of the map that you’ve been given and start figuring out where and how to trace in the roads and sketch out the obstacles. For me, writing the dissertation was when I hit my first big “oh my god you mean I have to decide what this is all means?” moment. But the second, and more long-lasting time, was when I had you. No parenting book, no parenting friend can ever really prepare you for all of the in-the-moment decisions along the way. And those small decisions often feel like they have the potential to have resounding, permanent impact.
I could regale you with stories of how scary and thrilling it is to be a parent, to not know how to do any of this, and still carry on. They’d all be true. Parenting, seen in this lens, is some sort of endurance exercise, a series of acts of faith, taken on because I have to believe that the wrong turns I take mean less than the moments when I get it right. And my instinct to protect you from the world–from its arbitrary and intentional cruelties–is fierce. So I still remember the day that I broke down, sobbing; it’s not important why, what’s important is how I sat out on the back steps to cry, not wanting you to know and not wanting to make you feel responsible for my grief. You were younger than you are today, but not that very young.
You found me anyway, and you wrapped your arms around me and you said, “It’ll be ok.”
M’hijo. For days after that moment, I kicked myself. I felt like I failed as a mother. It shouldn’t be your job to take care of me. Finally a friend took my hands in hers and said, “You’re being a great mother. He’s learning how to be vulnerable and how to take care of people from you. He’s learning it’s ok to cry.” Yes. And you also were learning that we are stronger when we take care of each other.
Day by day you’ll notice that the firmly-drawn lines of the map you have fade; you’ll need to go outside those expectations and take roads you can’t have anticipated. So will I. We’ll both be figuring out what it means to be strong together even as you leave our back steps and jet out into the world.