Listening to my child sob hysterically on the other end of the phone, I instantly transformed into Mom, the Helicopter Goddess, my alter ego; the warrior for my children’s happiness. With mighty engines revved, I prepared to swoop in and make everything alright.
Two hours later, I hung up the phone exhausted after I successfully completed my super hero duties once again. But as I placed the receiver on the hook, I wondered, “did my mother do this for me?”
Even though I was beginning to suffer from middle-aged dementia and menopause, one memory has always been clear in my mind; the sun rose and set for my mother in her children. She believed in us and had complete faith that we could do or be anyone we wanted. But another vivid recollection haunted me: her lax attitude about our safety.
In 1957, on a cold, dreary day, my mom threw her terrified five-year-old daughter onto a yellow, rusted two-wheeled bike, sans training wheels. Running alongside, she encouraged me to peddle my chubby legs faster and faster.
“Mommy,” I squealed, fearful of falling. “Don’t let go!”
Remembering how she whispered in my ear, “You can do this,” I pushed my tiny legs to their limit, when unbeknownst to me, she then took her hands away and off I flew, ponytails bouncing wildly in the wind. Without fully comprehending, I was being given my first taste of freedom without her right at my side.
Days at the beach were no different. Sitting on her towel, with her latest novel covering her face, she’d periodically peek over the top, and casually wave as we dove under the turbulent waves, young bodies bouncing crazily in the foamy mist.
Unfortunately, when I took my position by the water’s edge twenty years later, I couldn’t understand how she could have been so cavalier. Each time the salty sea just tickled my kid’s young ankles, I hyperventilated. And, if any frothy ripple came in higher than their knees, I’d swoop them up and drag them to safety on higher ground near the cooler, beach chair, and my dutiful eye.
As a child in the Madden family, we had four rules: be kind, respectful, honor the family name and be home at 6:00 for dinner. There was no checking in with our whereabouts, just pure, unadulterated freedom.
Years later, when I knew my time with my mom was growing short, I finally had to ask, “Weren’t you ever afraid we’d get hurt?”
Smiling, she pulled me close, just like in days gone by when she wrapped her water logged daughter up in a warm towel. She said, “I was terrified. What you don’t know is the minute you left the house, I got in the car and followed you wherever you went. And those days on the beach, I never read one word of that book.”
Then, kissing me on the cheek, she divulged her secret to setting me free, “I knew one day I wouldn’t be here to protect you. You had to learn to fly on your own.”
A week later, she was gone, and I was truly on my own.
I look back on those days and think how fortunate I was to have her as a mother. She gave me the tools to stand on my own two feet and to love the life I’ve been given without fear, without hesitation.
Today, at fifty-eight, I still suffer the curse of the damned when it comes to my children’s heartaches. I can’t help it, but their pain is my pain, and as the old saying goes, “I’m only as happy as my least happy child.” I now know it was the same for her.
Today, when this warrior princess gets that suffocating feeling that I have to make it all better for any one of my kids, I close my eyes, feel her presence, and listen for her words, “you have to let them go so they can fly. Let them dance on the wind like God intended.”
The greatest gift a mother or parent can give her child is the ability to be free. To dream their dreams, despite the fact they may not fall into societal norms. To feel intensely, even though they may be thought of as irrational at times. And to explore the world, even though it kills to know they’re so far away from the family nest.
My grandmother allowed my mom’s wings to go unclipped, and she did the same for us. I can only hope one day my four children will look back as say, “Thanks, mom. Now, it’s time I did it for my kids.”
There are moments in all our lives when we have felt a moment of pure, spontaneous combustion in our souls to do something outside our norm. Mine was when I moved away to San Diego from the only home I’d ever known in Northern California to be with my children’s father. I had no friends, no job, nothing that was mine, but a leap of faith that the man I married and I would make it. What’s an instance where you’ve had to let someone else fly, regardless of your strong desire to protect them?