When my first child was about two, I noticed that she had a habit of running away from me when I put her down. She’d run away, giggling the whole time, then rush back toward me with her hands reaching. She would hurl herself against my legs, hugging tightly, pressing her cheek to my knee. Then off she’d run again, running away from me, leaving me behind.
I noticed after a while that she only ran away if I was firmly planted and in plain sight. If I was walking, she would stay right by my side.
When my next baby turned two, I found him doing the very same thing. Running away, giggling, but rushing right back to throw his sturdy little body against mine. He was less subtle than his sister, though, and I remember him calling to me as he hurried away, “Mommy! I going! I going!”
By the time my third child was a toddler, I had learned to expect and to understand the phenomenon of the escaping child. I had come to understand that it was important to let them try out their newfound independence. It was important to let them rush away, to leave me behind.
And I’d learned that it was even more important for me to expect them back, to stay where I was, to be the solid foundation that let them hurl themselves back to safety when they’d gone too far.
I had learned that it was my job to trust them, and not to pull them back, even when I was afraid.
Now my children are grown. All three are adults, and one is happily married.
But you know what? That valuable lesson that my babies taught has turned out to still be true. I still need to let my children run away. I still need to be steady and sure and in one place, so that they can come back.
Over the years, each of my children has found a need to rush back, just for a bit, just to reassure themselves that we are here, that home is still safe, that our knees will still withstand the force of their return.
My nest is empty, but it is still the nest. My fledglings are off, flying to new places, making their own new nests.
But I know that when they are hurt, or sad, or confused, they can come back. I know that it is the existence of our “nest”, and Dad and I in it, that lets them go off to try new things.
We are home. And home is the place they can come back to when they need to regroup.
I’ve realized that we are to our children what my Grandparents were to my Dad in this old photo. What my parents were to me and to my siblings.
We are the touchstone.
What a gift.