The Gift of Letting Go
By: Shannon Ralph
I received a game-changing telephone call this past Saturday. Up until this weekend, Ruanita and I were living rather comfortably with the knowledge that our eight-year-old son, Lucas, is a geek. A bit of a dweeb. I am not sure when we came to this conclusion, but at some point in the last few years, we have fully accepted Lucas’s geekiness. Perhaps it is the fatal combination of eyeglasses, pasty white skin, and foot orthotics. Or the allergy to mosquito bites that causes him to swell up like the Elephant Man all summer long. Or maybe it is the video game obsession. Or his refusal to even entertain the idea that sports might just be enjoyable. Or his utter fascination with anything even remotely scientific. Or perhaps it is simply the gusto with with he enjoys watching Antiques Roadshow with his momma. Whatever the reason, we have resigned ourselves to a future that includes a forty-year-old Lucas with thinning hair and a paunch, living in our basement, playing video games with his buddies, and neglecting to ever grace us with grandchildren.
That is, until Saturday. Everything changed on Saturday morning as I was innocently sipping my latte and perusing the clearance racks at Target. My shopping revelry was interrupted by an obnoxious ring tone and I reached into my purse to grab my phone, assuming my mother was calling me for the umpteenth time that day. I didn’t recognize the number. Typically, when I don’t recognize a number, I simply do not answer the phone. I don’t really enjoy talking on the phone, and if you are not a member of my inner circle—one of the few people whose phone numbers are plugged into my phone—then I don’t really have a desire to talk to you. (Perhaps Lucas comes by his social ineptness naturally?) Regardless, it must have been the latte. Or perhaps it was the bargain shopper’s high. Whatever it was that rendered me impaired, I went against my dearly-held antisocial values and answered the phone. A man’s voice was on the other end.
“Hi, my name is Eric. My son, Ryan, is in Lucas’s second grade class.” Uh-oh. What did Lucas do? He continued, “We have an extra ticket to the The Children’s Theater this evening and Ryan asked if I would call and see if Lucas could go with us.”
I was stunned into silence. I remember Lucas mentioning Ryan on several occasions. Ryan is a member of the “Boys Club” with Lucas—a group of second grade boys who spend their precious recess minutes plotting against the “Girls Club”. They try to take over the girls’ clubhouse, kick the girls off the playground, attack them with snowballs, and otherwise terrorize the cootie-infected girls (sort of future Republicans in training). I knew Lucas was friends with Ryan, but I knew little beyond that.
“Umm…yea…I am at Target right now. Let me call home and check with Lucas. Can I call you right back, Eric?”
“Oh, sure. Not a problem.” I took down Eric’s phone number and proceeded to call home to discuss this strange new turn of events with Ruanita.
When Ruanita answered the phone and I explained that I received a phone call from one of the dads in Lucas’s class, she reacted in the same way I did. “Uh-oh. What did Lucas do?” I went on to explain the conversation I had just had with Eric. For a moment, I listened to dead air on the other end of the phone line. Finally, Ruanita responded with, “Really? Seriously?” Yes, really. And seriously.
Ruanita’s Momma Bear instincts immediately kicked in. Who is this Eric? Do we know this guy? Is Ryan really Lucas’s friend? Is his mom going, too? If it’s just the dad, I don’t want Lucas going. He could be a pedophile. It’s the “normal” ones you need to worry about. On and on.
This was the first time Lucas had ever been invited to do anything with a friend’s family without Ruanita or me present. In first grade, he had been invited to a classmate’s birthday party, but parents were invited to stay for the party. I made Ruanita take him because, frankly, I get a bit anxious in a roomful of people I do not know. Rather than risking the embarrassment of running, screaming from a roomful of fellow first-grade moms, I let Ruanita handle that situation. This, however, was different. We would not be there to watch Lucas’s every move. We would be handing our child over to another person’s care. A person whom we did not know. Needless to say, it was a bit nerve-wracking.
I tried to waylay Ruanita’s concerns. Yes, I assured her, Ryan is in Lucas’s class and he is Lucas’s friend. I have heard him mention Ryan on several occasions. No, we do not know the dad, but he sounded perfectly nice and normal on the phone. And we would meet him when he came to pick up Lucas. Lucas is eight years old and is reaching the age where he needs to start socializing with friends more. With Ruanita and me working opposite shifts, we haven’t really put much effort into arranging play dates for Lucas. He mostly just hangs out with my family and our friends. This was an opportunity falling into our lap. And The Children’s Theater was a fabulous place to visit. The play that evening was a musical. I imagined Lucas would enjoy it immensely. Most importantly, however, Lucas wanted to go. When Ruanita asked Lucas about it, he was excited about the idea of hanging out with a school buddy. He was downright giddy. So how could we deny him the opportunity to experience the theater while enjoying the company of a friend?
After a few moments of wrangling, we decided to let Lucas go. I called Eric back to confirm. He would pick Lucas up at 7:00pm. I finished my shopping at Target and headed home. When I arrived at home, Lucas excitedly told me all about his upcoming “date”, obviously forgetting that I was the one who arranged the whole thing. I found out that Ruanita had, not surprisingly, grilled Lucas once I got off the phone with her. She found out that Ryan’s dad frequently volunteers as a “Book Buddy” in Lucas’s classroom, which put my mind at ease a bit. I am not sure why it put my mind at ease, but it did. I also discovered that Ruanita had an interesting conversation—well, actually a lecture—with Lucas about “good touch” and “bad touch”. I am sure Lucas rolled his eyes and squirmed through the entire conversation. And there’s a good chance he may tell Ryan’s dad that his mom suspected he was a child molester. That will definitely score us brownie points with the PTA elite. Oh, well. Lucas had heard the “stranger danger” spiel numerous times before, but better safe than sorry, right?
So we dressed Lucas in his best khakis and rugby shirt and Eric picked him up precisely at 7:00pm. We introduced ourselves at the door, took comfort in the fact that Ryan’s grandmother was going with them, and waved our little boy off. Off on his first outing sans mommas. I have to say, it was a bit bittersweet. On the one hand, I loved the fact that Lucas had a friend, and that his friend—out of all the boys in his class—had chosen Lucas to go to The Children’s Theater with his family. It kind of gave me a little hope that perhaps Lucas’s social skills will not land him in our basement playing video games his entire life. On the other hand, however, I missed him. I did not like him being out in the big world without me. Yes, he was with other responsible adults. But he was not with me. I was smacked dead square in the face with the reality that I was not ready to let go of my baby boy. I’ve only had him for eight years. Definitely not sufficient time with him. Yes, I realize that I was not really letting him go. At least not for good. But it certainly felt like it in that moment.
In reality, letting go is not something that happens in a day. Or a week. Or even a year. Letting go takes place over many years in countless moments. Letting go includes things as inconsequential as trusting him to brush his own teeth or wash his own hair. (No, I am not quite there yet.) And it includes moments as earth-shattering as watching him walk out the door to head off on his first outing with a friend’s family. Out in the big world where I can’t protect him. That’s the big issue, really. We want to protect our babies from anything and everything that has even a remote chance of ever hurting them. We want to wrap our arms around them and never let them go. Of course, as parents, that’s not our job. Or our right. From the moment our babies are born, our job is to prepare them to live their lives without us. What kind of sucky raw deal is that, huh? We love them and protect them and care for them and give one hundred and twenty percent of ourselves to them, only to let them go in the end. As a matter of fact, from the moment they are born, we are letting them go. We literally let them go to take their first steps. We figuratively let them go to make their first mistakes. It doesn’t seem right. Or fair. But it is our job. It is the task we signed up for when we decided to become parents. We have to let them go. And if we have loved them and protected them and cared for them enough, we have to trust that they will be okay.
Lucas came home from the theater grinning from ear to ear Saturday night. I saw them pull up in front of the house and ran out to help him in since the sidewalks were coated in ice. Ryan’s dad patted him on the back and said that they had a great time. As we began to walk away, his buddy Ryan hopped out of the car and ran over to hug Lucas. They hugged and exchanged a quick, “See you at school on Monday.”
My little geek has a friend. A friend that is not in any way a relative. Not even a fourth cousin, twice removed. A friend he made himself. All on his own. Despite the bittersweetness of it all, I am thrilled. Perhaps letting him go—just a little bit—is the best gift I can give my son.