A few weeks ago, we made our annual pilgrimage to the corn maze and as soon as we'd paid to enter, the kids headed off to go through the maze on their own, leaving us behind. I snapped a picture, knowing that it was likely to be the only one I would get.
This is my view more often that not these days - a quick glimpse of their backs as they walk away.
My friend and I watched them go before entering the maze at a different place than they had. We wandered and chatted freely, since we were no longer responsible for leading a group of small children like we had for so many years. We even talked about that, acknowledging how different things are now. As she prepares for her oldest to leave for college next year and I think about Miguel leaving the year after that, we are fully present in these moments which are truly bittersweet. I would like to say that we did better in the maze alone but we didn't. We ran into dead ends, went in circles, and felt lost. When we did finally emerge (exiting through the entrance, no less), we felt more relieved than victorious.
This is the arc of parenting for most of us. We keep them close to us when they are small and as they get older, they begin to separate from us. I know this and yet I have moments when I want to ask if I can go with them, times when I want to yell, "Wait for me!" But I know that's not the way this goes. So, I try to focus on finding the joy as I watch them leave. I marvel in the strength that shows in the way they carry themselves, in the closeness and ease of their friendships, and in the laughter they leave in their wake.
And for those of us left in that wake, like my friend and I that day, I know that we too get to wander and laugh as we find our way, maybe a little more haggard than we were before we had our kids but a little wiser and definitely better for having loved them.