Look at this picture. That’s my daughter in the middle there. The short one. Blue sneakers. The one who politely but determinedly pushed her way to the starting line of the annual July Fourth Kid’s Fun Run.
Now I don’t know why she’s crossed her fingers. Maybe she wants to win the race. Maybe she’s hoping for a rainbow shave ice when she’s through. Maybe she’s thinking what I was thinking– that those other kids are huge and hopefully they won’t trample her.
Lately I’ve been looking for safe ways to let Pearl assert herself: placing her own order at restaurants, calling daddy on the phone, making her own dinner… but as I looked at her, so small in that big crowd, I wondered– what’s our plan for this race? Who’s running with her? She can’t do this alone.
But it was too late. The race official yelled “Go!” and the kids were off.
Pearl? Gone. Vanished.
I Immediately regretted our whole strategy of fostering her independence.
She’s still so little.
So I took off, my heart racing faster than my feet– would I ever find her? The road was full of kids, many of them in the same t-shirt. Had I gone too far? Should I slow down? Should I stop? But I kept running, somehow I knew she was still ahead.
Halfway through this extremely long kilometer, I was gasping for air and losing hope. I prayed Pearl would ask a race official to call our names over the loudspeaker. I prayed today not be the day a crazy person decides to steal stray children. I prayed she was not toothless and bloody on the side of the road. Finally, I caught a glimpse of her small body running, no– sprinting– about 100 yards ahead of me. Her golden braid flapping in her wake.
When she turned to the people cheering on the sidelines, I saw her clear round face. And in that instant, she did not look lost without me. She was not crying or bleeding or devastated. She was completely exhilarated, feeling her independence.
I tried to catch up, holding my camera and clicking away as I sped forward. I had become a full-on parenting cliché. The mom with the camera, trying desperately to cling to her child’s early years, trying to capture the moments that were literally running away from her.
She wasn’t the first one across the finish line, but there were definitely more people behind her than in front of her. And she wasn’t looking for me when she turned back and smiled. She smiled for herself, for the great race she had run. Fearless, confident, proud.
There’s a harsh irony that comes with doing the best we can for our kids: The more air we blow into their sails, the faster they sail away. I told Pearl how proud I was and gave her an extra-long squeeze, knowing I will be chasing my daughters for the rest of my life.