"Who doesn't know what I'm talking about
Who's never left home, who's never struck out
To find a dream and a life of their own
A place in the clouds, a foundation of stone
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes
She needs wide open spaces…"
I was thinking about the the Dixie Chicks' song, "Wide Open Spaces," it today. A friend and I have been talking about the tug on our hearts as our daughters have struck out for "a dream and a life of their own." This was one of my daughter's favorite "traveling down the road with the windows down, the sunroof open, and the CD player blaring" songs. We always listened to it as we headed over Kenosha Pass and through the wide open spaces of South Park (yes, Virginia…there really is a place called South Park) on our way to camp.
And as much as I love the song…and the sentiment, it wasn't one that really resonated with me. Yes, I did strike out for a dream and a life of my own, but only after my parents had already moved out of the area well before I thought I was ready to be on my own. In fact, as an adult daughter, I was usually the one following my mother from place to place still trying to get more one-on-one time. So when my own daughter started needing her own space from me--her overwhelmingly attentive and fascinated-with-her-every-move mom--I was hurt and baffled.
It took having her go away to school 12,000 miles around the globe for me to get the message that she was really going to be just fine without me to cheerlead her every achievement. My friend's experience was much less drastic, but just as poignant for her. Her daughter's new school was only 30 minutes away, in rush hour traffic, but still she felt the tug on her heart that I knew all too well.
Since my experience precipitated hers, I felt like a bit of a Indian scout in this new territory of mother/daughter individuating.
As I prayed for inspiration, it became clear to me that this "space" is not really created, or even initiated, by the child or the parent. This space is a gift from God. It is a natural part of the ongoing process of surrendering, letting go, yielding. This is the exercising and flexing of those mother-muscles that I have found to be the very heart and soul of parenting. You know the ones…the ones you helped your child learn to use when they needed to open their hands and let a butterfly they had caught in the garden…fly.
From the moment our children come into our experiences, we are asked to begin exercising this letting-go muscle. At first it is in sharing the news of our expectancy with our spouses or partners. Next we are asked to share our precious bundle-of-joy with extended family, neighbors, childcare providers. Soon they are going off to school for the first day…and so on, and so on. Until one day we are watching as they pack their own footlockers for camp or college and before long are loading their bed and dresser into a U-haul to furnish their first apartment. Each time we are expected to open our hands (and our hearts) wider and wider letting them stretch their wings, while we discover, ourselves, that those "release" muscles are becoming more flexible with every opening. Each opportunity give us greater confidence that even as we loosen our grip and spread our fingers, our palm is always just below their wingspan as they take those first few fluttering attempts at flight. And more importantly...so is His.
I remember my daughter's first half day of Kindergarten. It was just as hard as the day she flew off to Africa last year...some 13 years later. My sister and I sat outside the kindergarten room where our children, five-year-old cousins, were happily learning new things…for the entire morning. My younger sister was probably adjusting to her son's new adventure with a great sense of peace, but I think she stayed with me seeing that I was truly unable to walk away without breaking down in tears. When our children came out, walking in a straight line like little ducks behind their teacher for a mid-morning recess, the teacher took one look at us and shook her head with an understanding smile. I doubt we were the first moms to be unable to walk away from the playground on the first day of school.
But I wasn't there all morning the next day. I learned quickly that her time in morning Kindergarten was also my time for accomplishing household chores, meeting with patients, and a few precious hours of uninterrupted time for study and prayer. Soon our weekday routine of saying goodbye at the front door of Cameron Elementary was as dry-eyed as saying goodnight and walking out of her bedroom door…another "walking away" exercise that took me weeks to master without trauma...long after she was fast asleep.
So as I sat there two mornings ago thinking about our daughters' need for "space" I had this image of God, again, as the Great Gardener. I know, bear with me.
I saw my daughter and I as two beautiful tulips standing next to each other in the garden. Each season we grow, and as we grow we get closer and closer. So every fall, the Gardener comes to the garden and breaks up the bulbs and replants us further apart so that we have space to grow more, to wriggle our roots and search out water without getting in each other's way. And because of this space we will produce more bulbs, bigger and more beautiful flowers, and stronger roots. There will be less opportunity for molds and other invasive microorganisms that produce the kind of root-rot that is often the result of over-crowding.
It is only my false perception of each woman's situation that would lead me to think that one daughter wants "space", while another is forced into accepting "space" by circumstances, and yet another (who also happens to be a mother) is uncertain about what that need for "space" really means. I now know that it is always God who is creating the space so that we can both grow… mother and daughter.
So tonight I am wriggling my toes in the rich dark soil. Our children are tucked into beds in San Francisco, Oakland, Johannesburg, and St. Louis…and I am trusting that God has planted us all right where we need to be. He is giving each of us room to grow roots that seek out the depth of our relationship with Him, that reach for the nourishing waters of inspiration, and that stretch us to grow in new directions…often towards each other…but from the depths where we have rooted ourselves in His love.
And from the distance of this new space, I have a better view of how beautiful and strong and tall my daughters (and son) are growing.
Thank you Father for your unspeakable gift…