Roots and Wings
Adam’s grandmother had a curious pen set up in her carriage shed that I asked about once. It consisted of a fenced area in the corner filled with a fluffy bed of hay, and a small opening to the outdoors which entered into a large, fenced grassy area that included plenty of sun and few big shade trees. I say this set up was curious because her animals were kept in the barn and pasture, not over here in the carriage shed. She explained: This is where my dogs birth and raise their pups. They’re self-sufficient; mom has the litter and cares for them out here. She uses the doorway to take them outside throughout the day for play and to housebreak them. A canine mother will do this naturally, on her own, if given the freedom to access the outdoors as she wishes, and as her pups indicate a need. In and out the pups go, by her command, all day long. It takes twelve weeks of nursing and “potty-training” on mom’s part, but then they are ready to go to their new homes, completely housebroken and well-nourished. It cannot be rushed; a pup should never leave it’s mother sooner than twelve weeks. Oh, right. That amazing thing that happens when we provide animals with an environment that reveals their true (albeit domesticated) behavior. Roots and wings.
I didn’t have many real life attachment parenting mentors as a young mother. Actually, I didn’t even know what we did was called attachment parenting at first. Can’t remember if I eventually learned the term from a copy of Mothering magazine I’d found at the flea market, from a book by Dr. Sears, or from our midwife (who remained a good friend after the birth of our child). It just made sense to pick up our baby when she cried, invite her to sleep with us for warmth and security, and nurse whenever she felt the need for sustenance or a moment of nurturing. As she grew older and communicated with words, we knew she preferred to be with us and had no interest in overnights at relatives’ or friends’ houses. At large gatherings, she was reserved and preferred to hang close, mostly choosing not to run wild with the other kids. I later understood that it was not because us was us, and she couldn’t bear to separate, but because us was home, and home felt right. She was engrossed in the work of living according to her own intuition, and we were the two people she trusted would allow for that. We didn’t question why up until age nine or ten she preferred to fall asleep with one of us by her side. Or why she decided to wean herself in a single day at age two when I thought we’d go longer. To be sure, I had plenty of questions about raising a child in this world, but fulfilling her basic needs was not a mystery. Our not-very-well-researched parenting method consisted of acting in a way that felt right. That was the whole shebang. Do what feels right. Now, Oprah is not exactly calling to feature us in a parenting spotlight, so proceed with caution on that one.
When Emily was young, there were plenty of strange looks about our closeness and our attentiveness; I’m sure there were conversations out of earshot that lent a critical analysis of our doting ways. I guess I just believed that if we met her emotional and physical needs, she would be strengthened. That by inviting her close rather than pushing her away, she’d trust that we’d be there, that we would always be her home. And it made no sense to me that because my five year old needed us to lay with her as she drifted to sleep, that my fifteen year old would need the same (as people suggested). Seriously, ask my nineteen year old if she’d like to co-sleep with mom and dad. Not a chance!
As is often the case, I’m not really sure what the point is here. Maybe just to say that now she is grown and of all her friends, she went to college further away than all but one of them. She does not express homesickness, but does look forward to coming home when breaks allow. She invites us to visit her, to get to know her friends because she thinks we’ll really like them (we do). She travels far and wide with her debate team and though her fierce independence proves she is terrible about sharing itineraries, we are still the first people she checks in with to report safe arrivals and team successes. Roots and wings.
This is the part in a post like this where a more profound person would offer sage encouragement to those of you still in the thick of it with little ones at home, but the idea of doing that makes me super uncomfortable. Just know that you have my support, for what it's worth, and don't worry about loving your children too freely, too abundantly. There is no harm in meeting their needs and building trust. Love big and love hard. And when they’re ready to leave your breast, your bed, your nest... you will always have their roots, while the world enjoys their wings.