I had another first as a mother last week. My eldest daughter, Sylvie, had the opportunity to go to gymnastics camp for the week. It is a 9:00 am to 5:00 pm day camp. The longest she has ever been away from me for a camp or class environment is three hours, so I knew we were heading into uncharted territory. Sylvie has been begging me for two years to go to gymnastics like her cousins do. I have been slow to get her involved in a weekly class for many reasons, but knew that it was time to give her the chance to try something new.
A few days before camp started, we stopped by the gym to pay for her camp and check the place out. All of a sudden, Sylvie wasn’t so sure she wanted to go anymore. Obviously an abrupt change, I questioned her as to why she didn’t want to go. Was she afraid of the gym? Scared of not knowing people? She said there were so many kids. Ah, fear of not fitting in, of looking like a fool in front of others… We talked about the friends she could make and how the other kids will be like her. I told her how anything they would ask her to do would be explained and shown to her.
By the time Monday came, she was super excited again. (Yay, mommy did good!) We had her backpack packed with everything she could possibly need throughout the day – extra clothes and shoes, towel, 3 types of sunblock (with tutorial about how to put them on), swimsuit, water shoes, water bottle, lunch, 3 snacks, special treat for discovery at lunch… I had talked about how she was going to get her lunch containers open and how she could ask for help if she had trouble. I’d told her she was going to have so much fun. We’d fixed her hair so she could do cartwheels and somersaults. She was wearing her favorite leotard with jewels and ruffled skirt. She was ready.
We signed her in and I walked her to the door that only she could go through. I told her how to put her shoes in the cubby and her backpack against the wall. Then I gave her a hug-kiss, as we call them, and let her go. All of a sudden I realized that I wasn’t ready. How did my precious baby get so big that I could leave her with strangers to do activities I didn’t get to approve and monitor? Wait! Maybe she wasn’t ready, maybe I should stay, maybe I needed to give her more information on how to survive in the big, bad world. The thoughts started swimming in my head… “I didn’t actually see the background checks for the camp workers. How did I know they were going to actually be doing gymnastics all day. What if there were mean kids? What if they said something to her that hurt her heart and scarred her hope? What if she didn’t make friends and this was a horrible day? Would she trust me again with another unknown? What if she gets molested?” Oh yeah, it got ugly in my head.
Meanwhile, Sylvie had dropped her shoes and bag and had skipped off into the gym totally carefree. I stared through the observation window for a minute, holding back tears, and then forced myself to take a deep breath and walk away from my baby. As I’m walking away, I’m praying, “Lord, please take care of my baby. Please take care of my heart. Help me to let go.”
Such a deep awakening happened in my heart. This is what every step is going to feel like as my girls grow. Needing to let them go explore this incredible world, but feeling with each step that maybe I haven’t done enough to prepare them. Afraid of when the first big hurt will come their way and wanting to protect them from that. The truth I know deep within is that I won’t be able to protect them from everything and that is one of the hardest things to fully accept. I remember holding Sylvie when she was just a few days old and realizing that one day this precious baby was going to get her heart broken. A fierceness rose up in me in that moment that has continued to this moment. It’s that fierce mother bear instinct that instantly causes me to do anything to protect my baby. It’s that instinct that made me want to circle the gym, like a grumbling bear, looking for anything entering the building that might be a potential threat to my girl’s heart. There was a line in a tv show where a character said, “Having a child is like taking your own heart out of your chest and watching it walk around outside your body.”
As I walk through these steps of letting go of my girls, I always think of my mom and the times she would say good-bye to me in tears. It was always hard for her to watch me leave, no matter how good the life was that I was going to. I know I will be this way, too. I also remember with such gratitude how my mom always encouraged me to branch out, try new things, even when it was hard on her. I also know that I have had my heart broken many times and not only have I survived it, but it has greatly increased my compassion for others. I pray I will be able to at least help my girls navigate their heartbreaks, while managing my own heart breaking in their sorrow.
Sylvie has completely enjoyed her time at camp and I see a more confident girl than I saw a few days ago. I am so grateful to witness the sweet blossoming of this precious soul I have been entrusted with. May God continue to help us as we grow!!