When my son struggled, two-thirds of the way through his freshman year of college, I set out to fix things in a way I would come to think of as The Helicopter Rescue Mission No One Requested.
For the record, mostly, I had been a good mom.
I loved being a parent — my child allowed me to know love as wide and as deep as oceans.
In giving the care I desperately needed as a kid, I watched him grow like a sapling in rich soil.
But wanting to make up for what I hadn’t had growing up, also, sometimes meant fear disguised itself as good intentions.
Early on, I got shooed away from doing my kid’s homework — You know that thing where you do your kid’s homework, for the good grade the teacher should give you — er, I mean — give the kid?
I shudder at wanting to show how something’s done “right” — interfering with a child’s journey of discovery.
Mostly I try to avoid that guilt — a faulty rift in time that allows me to feel regret about the past while refusing to let me change it.
Mercifully, as he grew, my son developed a gentle and knowing heart — and a strong will, which he deployed, jumping off the swinging helicopter ladder, ducking the thumping blades.
Growing up, rebellions came and went. They were part of an ongoing conversation we’d had since his birth — a push-me-pull-you of holding and letting go. There was a time when it was he, who clung to me like a baby monkey, protesting every separation.
Once during a family cycling trip, then nine years old, he took off like a rocket on his bike. As suspected, he’d settled into a local café on our regular route. We found him sitting by the window, leafing the big, colorful pages of the Sunday comics slowly, wearing a studied look of nonchalance.
Rattled, I scolded him for not warning us, and he retorted he needed more freedom. The feeling I had stumbled into to the future darted around my head like a determined hummingbird.
A few years later, leaning in to kiss him goodbye at a dinner party, he recoiled. There I stood, with my kissy face in the void, where — according to my understanding of objects in space — a soft, round cheek should have been. When had he outgrown showing affection in front of friends? How had I missed that?
It pains me now to admit that to deploy Operation Mom Can Fix This College Thing, I laid out a regimented, multipronged plan, in Excel no less, creating a task timeline. (The so-called rescue plan also could have been dubbed Let Me Save You From My Mistakes.)
Memories of having to figure everything out by myself at his age reminded me of my young adulthood played as a game of sharp-elbowed blind-man’s-bluff. I assumed he needed assistance and would hang on my every word.
I felt as shrill as steam tearing through a kettle whistle. And the more I pushed, the further the situation slipped from my grasp.
Resentments flared … something about me trying to solve his problems while complaining about him not solving his problems…something to do with a 19-year-old not wanting to be micromanaged by someone who may have employed a tone described as “overbearing.”
I enjoyed being the boss of him, and I had mostly had good ideas. Where did my sky-eyed, button-nosed sidekick go?
Thinking of that bike ride when my son took off, I remember standing there, lowering my arms, watching the space between me and my loved one widen, the sun glinting off handlebars for a moment, before he disappeared up and over the lip of the horizon.
I knew then I was letting go — whether I wanted to or not.
Simple. Simple — but not easy.
Marie Koltchak lives and writes on Vashon Island. She remembers venturing from home, at five years old, to get to the candy store.