When my children were old enough to understand figurative speech, I conveyed to them two choices: love to ski or find a new mom. I have skied with them since they were old enough to walk. They are now twelve and fourteen.
With each trip to the mountain, I watched their confidence grow. First the bunny hill, then the intermediate slope, always with Mom watching and waiting uphill as they wrangled their way down the mountain. An errant pole here, a lost ski there, a mitten on the lam. And don't get me started with the chaotic delegation of wind and waterproof gear. "Whose ski pants are those? We just got those boots last week--of course they still fit! Where's your ____ (insert ridiculously overpriced, lost Gor-tex item here)?" There were many times it was certainly more labor than love.
Often, I thought, "I cannot wait for the day they can do this on their own."
Apparently, that day came in February of 2016. As we were gearing up to hit the mountain, I realized there were no tearful cries for help from the backseat. No frustrated pleas for skis to be carried through the parking lot. Just a petulant, "Hurry up, mom! Geez."
Then, smooth as butter, they made their way down the hill, patiently waiting as I plodded along behind them. After a morning of shredding the terrain together, the unthinkable happened: the kids asked if they could take the rest of the afternoon to ski by themselves. As in without me.
Initially, my chest swelled with pride as they boarded the lift, all smiles and giggles. The two kids who once complained about cold hands and heavy equipment now trusted themselves enough to fly solo. As the summit fog carried their chair from view, the balloon in my chest became a grapefruit in my throat. The day I once longed for had finally arrived yet, instead of jumping for joy, I stood, paralyzed, wondering if the full-on ugly cry would be visible through my UV-reflective ski goggles. Today, the hill; tomorrow, college. It was a little bit heartbreaking.
Most of us associate grief with tangible loss: the death of a pet or loved one, the ending of a relationship with something, someone, or someplace. But what of life's subtle losses? Any well-adjusted parent knows it's right to foster independence, yet nothing can prepare us for the cosmic sucker punch of its sudden emergence. We rejoice when they walk, talk, and feed themselves, but do we take time to grieve the last freely given hug, packed lunch, or purchased Lego set?
With each of life's milestones, it is important to celebrate what is gained, but also to mourn what is lost. Making space for both joy and sorrow helps pave the way for gratitude. A grateful heart is an open heart.
Later that day, from the lift, I caught a glimpse of my kids. From above, I witnessed ecstatic hoots and Cheshire grins as they effortlessly zoomed through trees and over moguls. Seeing their confident faces helped assuage my fear and sadness. "They've got this," I thought, "and so do you."
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and Associate Producer of the New Orleans-based show, Death:The Podcast. She lives and works in Seattle.
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer whose therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of Seattle, Washington. She has been providing counseling and dating consultation services since 2000.