When D was a Cub Scout and going on his first group hikes, he used to stay at the front with the other little boys. They would inevitably increase the distance between us parents and them by speeding up from excitement and not paying attention.
“Slow down,” we’d yell. “We need to be able to keep an eye on you.”
As one would expect, the boys learned very well as they grew older to pace themselves according to the rest of the group, and hikes became a little less stressful for the parents. A couple of years in, he and his same-aged friends hiked in the middle of the pack as the youngest scouts took their spot up front. As a teenager, D often hiked alongside the adults.
Now twenty-two, D is a full-blown adult. (How did that happen so quickly?)
It was last Thanksgiving when I wrote about the panic we had all been experiencing as he prepared to graduate from college (how did that happen so quickly, too??) and enter the “real world”, and how Jim and I finally learned to try and release a little bit of our parental worry (and control, ahem), cut back on the interrogations, and just let him try to figure things out. That’s exactly what he’s been busy doing.
Interestingly enough, this whole parenting thing has been a little bit like hiking. Lately he is spending more and more time walking alongside us rather than zig-zagging wildly along the trail way in front.
Over the past couple of months I’ve seen increased maturity as he has become more and more realistic about his plans for his future. He’s still got big ideas—I don’t think that’ll ever change and I’m happy about that—but the difference now is that he is formulating action plans that will get him where he wants to go. When he asks us what we think, he really wants to know. We’re honest but gentle with our words, and he really listens and seems to absorb. When he has what he thinks is a better plan than what we’re suggesting, we listen to his reasoning. Sometimes he converts us and sometimes he doesn’t, but we release. It’s his life. His instincts are important. I’m pretty proud of where he’s at in his process right now, and I’m pretty proud of us, too.
He came home over the weekend and asked us if we wanted to go on a hike with him, and naturally we went along.
When we first hit the trail, he put his backpack on (he never hikes without it!) and started walking in front of us. Suddenly he stopped and said, “Why don’t you two walk in front of me? I’m afraid if I’m in front I’ll walk too fast.” I had a little laugh about that because at this point his speed didn’t matter much, but I like to think that he wanted to stick with us so we could walk and talk at the same time.
And we did.
We stayed together but took turns walking in front, depending on whether we were on a flat trail, hills, or even stairs. Sometimes we paused for a quick moment to take a picture and sometimes we all scurried past obstacles like the much-younger families with toddlers, but we were always moving forward.
I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. Arriving at this stage of parenting isn’t much different from arriving at all of the other stages. It’s a matter of figuring out the balance of holding on and letting go, teaching a little bit and learning a lot, and most of all, taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and celebrate how far you’ve all come, together.