We talk a lot about separation anxiety in regards to children, but what about the same for parents? When our son was a toddler and showing signs that he was ready to move from our bed into a little space of his own, I found the change rather difficult. We see a lot of literature targeted at parents about how to get babies and young children to sleep on their own, be independent. Our issue was kind of the opposite. Would I be able to sleep without him. Would he feel safe? Would he be warm enough? Would I hear him if he needed me? (Would he need me?)
One afternoon while I was describing my hesitation to another mother I know, she recalled feeling something similar when her own, now teenage, children were very young. She then presented me with a gift that someone had given to her, a simple black and white print of a mother and child titled “First Parting”. I hung the print above our son’s bed in his new space. Each night as he slept, it was a gentle reminder to me that it was ok to go to my own bed. He was happy and content in his new space. His body now a full room away from mine for the first time.
This Fall that same son started the preprimary program at a local Montessori school. As I have been home with him from the start, this is the first time he and I have spent so much time apart. In a way the experience has been familiar, much the same as that first parting but on a grander scale. While I expected the experience to be bittersweet and thought it might take some getting used to for all of us, I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be on me specifically, as a mother and primary care-giver. Our son is thrilled to go to school each morning and he is thriving in his new environment. Our whole family is finding a place within the Montessori community and in many ways we couldn’t be happier. On the other hand, I find myself missing my little boy during the morning hours he is away. He now has whole parts of his day that I am not privy to. It’s such a strange feeling. (Is this what my husband feels like while at work each day?) I catch myself looking forward to the weekends when we can all be together, in the same space for more than just a couple of hours at a time.
I realized as I was photographing my son’s shoes this morning that I often photograph my children’s shoes. We don’t wear shoes in our house, yet the little shoes that perpetually take up space in an unkempt heap on the back porch are among the dearest to my heart. Perhaps it is an atypical way to document a child’s growth, but what could be more representative of our children branching out from the nest than photos of the very shoes with which they begin to leave us? Shoes that they only wear when outside their home, experiencing new things, pushing their boundaries. The very tools used to protect soft soles while out in the world.
These aren’t just shoes I’m photographing on the back steps of our house, but symbols of their lives, of the ever-changing dynamic in our parent-child relationship. The shoes our son wore the last Summer we were still just a family of three. The shoes our daughter wore when she learned to walk. The crabby boots our son is wearing most days when I pick him up on the playground at his new school.
Coincidentally, our daughter is now ready for a little space of her own. She has graduated to her own bed, with the very same print gracing the wall above. No matter where a family might be on it’s path, this “first parting” is a pretty universal experience for all of us. Shortly after our son began his outside education, my own mother confessed to me that she cried for two weeks after I went away to college. I had no idea. It makes me wonder, as my children are still quite young, how many of these partings both grand and small do parents quietly endure and simultaneously celebrate over the years? It is an incredible journey to give yourself so completely to another human being and then slowly learn to let them go.
Carrie McClain is a wife, mama, wanna-be writer and photographer, lover of good food, art, and living simply. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of NY state and blogs at November Morning.