Saturday, November 04, 2006

Roots, Wings and Other Things

The phrase, “there are two things we must give our children, roots and wings,” has been dancing around in my head lately. As I hit the streets and the Internet in search of the perfect holiday gifts for my four kids, I ponder if I have given enough roots and wings; something money can’t buy and Santa can’t deliver.

Sometimes guilt overwhelms me when I think about my older two, Blake (21) and Kenny (19). I divorced their father when they were just ages two and nearly four. For five years I struggled and survived as a single parent; we were fairly rootless for a while. But when I remarried 12 years ago I, along with Jon, my husband, was able to start providing them with family traditions. As a real hands-on stepfather, Jon instilled in them a sense of responsibility as well as a living illustration of setting and attaining goals. I in turn was able to involve them in the creative process associated with my then-business (County Kids magazine) and of the joy and hard work involved in seeing a dream through to fruition.

The actual physical roots my children had were first planted in Weston, the town of my girlhood; we also lived in the same house in which I had grown. But five years ago, knowing instinctively that it was time for me to “graduate” from Weston, we pulled up roots and settled here in New Canaan. Now firmly planted, they – and we – are thriving in our new environment. Blake and Kenny will always have a pull towards Weston, as will I, and it is another bond the three of us share.

Giving our children wings is a more emotionally difficult task. Do we push them out of the nest or nudge them gently? I believe each child is unique and the method for teaching them about freedom can vary. Partly, we teach by example, by flying solo with determination or by breaking away with hesitation i.e. not taking many trips without them. Neither way is the better way, but each way helps them develop the wings they will need. Wings that invariably appear to flap when we are least prepared.

When Blake began talking about a career in the military during his sophomore year in high school the flutters caught me unawares. And on that morning in July of 2001 when the doorbell rang at 4 a.m. and his Marine recruiter arrived to drive him to boot camp, my heart couldn’t have been fuller or more broken. Blake was ready to soar and I let go, but not without holding on to a couple more feathers.

Kenny has since grown strong and creative wings after a few false starts and crash landings. Although Janet and Jack are still here, continuing to grow their roots and wings, I miss my older birds and have been adjusting slowly but surely to my half-empty nest.

Traditions, family in-jokes and certain “formats” during the holidays remind our family of its roots. But the moment I cherish most in this world – where roots and wings come together for this mommy – is on Christmas morning.

It has been a tradition for many years now that on December 25th whichever child wakes up first must come to our room and tell us that he/she thinks or knows (by peeking) that Santa has come. That child then gently wakes up the other three and then all four of them pile into our bed for at least another half an hour of “sleep.” Christmas of ’02 is the last time all four children were home, as Blake was in Japan last year. That morning is etched in my mind and in my heart. There we were, from then three foot tall Jack to 6’2” Blake, all snuggled together in the silent still of the morning, anticipatory and sleepy, giggling and lovingly making fun of one another; my winged and my still wingless birds safe in my embrace if for but a temporary slice of time.

I envision this tradition in years to come, with grandchildren and daughters and sons in law, all piled onto our bed in the wee hours of Christmas morn. Roots going back deeply and feathers floating lightly above the bed. It is my favorite Christmas gift. It is simple and it is priceless.

Happy holidays from our family to yours!

No comments: