Ten years ago, when my daughter was drooling on books instead of reading them, I scoured eBay for an ancient collection of Disney stories for young readers. I had to buy several lots to ensure that I ended up with all my obscure favorites, including Goofy and the Miller, The Princess Who Never Laughed, and of course, Dumbo.
My kids eventually loved the books as much as I did, especially Dumbo. There’s a point in the story where Dumbo is at the top of a (fake) burning building as part of a circus act. The clowns and the crowd start yelling, “Jump!” but Dumbo’s friend Timothy – the only one who knows about Dumbo’s hidden talent – tells his pal it’s time to fly.
I’m finding that as my kids get older, I’m playing the role of Timothy more than any other. Without shoelaces to tie and bottoms to wipe, most of what’s left to do is simply encourage them to fly while providing a soft place to land.
As kids grow up, focus shifts to the less tangible but still critical life skills: the confidence that we can do hard things; the knowledge that compassion is crucial in this world; and the realization that the effort of doing something can be more satisfying than the end result.
I’m also learning that you never reach a stage in parenting where you simply exhale, relax and put it in cruise control. Having kids, no matter their ages, means that there’s always something pinging on your mom radar.
This week, the mom radar was lit up with the school’s student council election. My daughter wanted to run for vice president. Fighting that twinge of “what if things don’t go her way,” we told her to go for it.
She came up with her campaign slogan and designed posters. She wrote her own speech and persistently ignored my suggestions. This was her race to run, and she was doing it on her terms. Just as it should be.
Today was speech day. She woke up nervous and with a sore throat. I did what little I could to help her feel supported. I tucked my lucky charm in her pocket, loaning her my prized possession for the day. I made hot water with lemon and honey to soothe her throat and then scrounged up a handful of cough drops to stash in her backpack in case of a vocal emergency. I sent her off to school with, “I love you, good luck, and I think it is so awesome that you’re trying this.”
Parents were invited to watch the speeches, and despite feeling slightly helicopter-y, this opportunity was too good to pass up.
The fourth and fifth grade classes filed in to the amphitheater and one by one, the candidates gave their speeches. My daughter was the very last to go. She walked to the podium, fumbled with her papers, cleared her scratchy throat and began to speak into the microphone, timid at first but quickly finding her voice.
She finished her speech, locked eyes with me across the crowd and flashed a huge grin. I gave her a thumbs up, thinking of that one simple word: fly.