She stands on tiptoes, watching and waiting. When at last it is time, she turns to wave to me and walks forward, depositing her golden token. She bounces up the single stair, scrutinizing the scene before her. What will she choose this time? The roaring dragon? The leaping orca? Or one of her usual favorites—the fox, or the cat named Tuesday?
My daughter loves the carousel. Whenever we girls have an afternoon to ourselves, this is what she asks to do. We drive the short trip over the river to the historic carousel downtown, where we load up with tokens. Do you want me to ride with you, or just watch? I always ask. Sometimes she wants me to go with her. Usually though, especially lately, she just wants me to watch. She means it, too. I have to watch.
Each time the music swells and her intricately carved mount comes into view, she is looking for me. I wave. She waves back, smiling and showing me “I love you” in sign language. I sign it back. She rides on, satisfied.
The next time she reappears I must again be ready, be watching, be waving.
Parenting is becoming increasingly like this as my children grow. They are taking the tools, the skills, the abilities and lessons, and stepping out into the world, a little more each time. Sports, after-school clubs, friendship dynamics, conversations with adults: in a hundred large and small ways they are asserting themselves, stepping into the world of adulthood, a world they are joining without me in some ways. And I am letting them. It’s hard, of course. They are who I know them to be, but they are also not me—nor are they always who I expect them to be.
I am not releasing them to the world yet, or resigning my duties as parent and coach; they are not ready, of course. They are still young, and will be young a long time yet. They still need me to actively parent, to intervene and teach and guide. They still check in frequently: Are you watching? Do you see me? I love you.
But they are becoming ready, a little more every day, every year. In the beginning, my daughter never wanted to ride the carousel alone. Now, she confidently steps up in line, as assuredly as she reads the Gospel Reading in church, or performs her part in the class play, or takes the lead in a game with her friends. One day as she rides, she will look over to me a little less, or not at all. That will be okay. She is growing into herself, into who God is making her.
A carousel is, like all metaphors, an imperfect one—but I have this conversation with myself each time I find myself sitting and watching, waving, waiting. I picture her as a teenager, a college student, a young mother, a middle-aged woman.
“Do you want me to ride with you?” I’ll ask.
Sometimes she’ll say yes. Sometimes no. Sometimes may come seasons when I need to climb on and find her. But I’ll also watch, and wait, and she’ll know I love her.
Whether she chooses the lion or the unicorn, whether she looks over every revolution or not, she knows I’m there. Her life is beginning, has already begun, and though I can’t stop the ride (nor do I want to) I will be there, trusting in who she is and in the God who is growing her into herself.
Featured image by wirestock