Wheeler: A mom's mixed feelings as she moves into the spectator seats

I can still see my boy, one small hand swinging a red lunchbox and the other firmly inside a teacher’s hand, walking away from me on his first day of kindergarten.

He never looked back.

This is what we want, our parental paradox, to have prepared our beloved children so well that they need us so little.

My daughter, a rising junior at UNC-Wilmington, has called me without my leaving a message first perhaps three times in two years. Her self-sufficiency should make me positively giddy.

My son, settling in at Appalachian State today, hollered “Hooray!” when asked how he was feeling about heading to college for the first time. His eagerness should fill me with pride.

And it does. But what I seem to feel the most, rightly or wrongly, is pain.

When faced Wednesday with People Appreciation Day – during which I was supposed to eat with someone I differ with – I found myself believing maybe the mother of one of my best friends had it right:

“Getta,” she said in a Facebook post, using my oldest nickname, “guess I’ll fix a pb & banana sandwich and eat with the person I disagree with most often, who is old-fashioned, shortsighted and tries to tell me what to do on a regular basis – myself.”

Regrets vs. rewards

There’s nothing like an introspection-inducing major life event to remind us that far too often our most militant critics are the ones inside our heads.

Mine have been screaming relentlessly this summer as the child-rearing season of my life has spun itself to a close.

Getting hung up on regrets instead of successes seems understandable, given that what I feel more sharply than the glory of sending off children confident in their own abilities is grief. No more bedtime stories, no more frogs in his pockets, no more bows in her hair, no more kisses on those cowlicks.

I regret that I wasn’t more indulgent.

I should have indulged more in cultivating creativity and less in cleaning; more in prayer and less in worry; more in museums, music and art and less in TV; more in coaxing conversations over meals, more in sharing my do’s instead of don’ts, more in nurturing shared interests.

As it happens, the afternoon “Focus on the Family” radio series this week has been dedicated to, ta-da, helping parents prepare kids for the inevitable send-off into adulthood. The snippet I caught talked of children as arrows in the parental quiver and stressed that successfully launching those arrows – not polishing them or sanding them forever – is the goal.

Any hope that the arrow will always fly straight, given even our best attempts at shaping its fletching, is a vain one; whether a child has the skills to get back on course after making mistakes is the measure of success.

The cheering section

During the Olympics, I watched the plentiful coverage of parents cheering, crying or hiding their eyes and felt their pride and pain. However hard they had worked helping their children get to that moment, however much they had given, on that stage, it was all up to the kids and what those athletes had inside them.

Even if they had wanted to, these parents couldn’t harangue the judges, couldn’t offer any excuses, couldn’t throw out any money to alter any outcomes, couldn’t do the work themselves. They were forced to be spectators.

I’m climbing up into the stands now, where I will wait to crazily applaud the victories or to open my arms in comfort, whatever my children need. But it’s up to them now.

Forgive me, though, if I feel the need when I leave my baby in Boone today to indulge in just a few more tears.

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