Running Behind Elephants

When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him run.

~ Abraham Lincoln

A strange thing happens between mothers and sons in the teen years. The chubby fingers of childhood loose their grip, the adoring eyes fall less often on you, the gifts of rocks and sticks and feathers become fewer. A distance insinuates itself between you.

The impatience I felt at the anchoring, weighting, forced stillness of a feeding child was fleeting. When that time ended, when they decided that they were ready to raise their trunks and trumpet to the world, when the tranquillity and calm were trampled upon by raucous, boisterous, spirited toddler-elephant feet, I mourned the passing age.

From the day they weaned themselves onwards, they have been training me for their eventual departure. They have eased me, gently on their part, raging against the machine on mine, towards the notion of letting them go. Always, I have skittered behind, playing catch-ups to them hurtling headlong into their lives.

It feels new and strange and tense, but they have been preparing me for this since the day they came squelching, screaming into the world, clutching my fragile heart in their hands.

It’s imperceptible at first. The weaning from breast or bottle, the experiments in self-feeding, the dressing of themselves, the move to big-boy pants, all milestones upon the long road away.

It escalates into the offering of a cheek for a goodbye kiss on the way to school, instead of a choke-hold hug and toothpaste-smelling smack on the lips. The casual dropping of my hand when out in public, instead of the tourniquet grip, rendering my fingers immobile. There are many little steps to independence; an insistence on wearing hair a particular way, on this t-shirt not that, on no-I-really-do-not-want-to-wear-that-smocked-outfit-grandma-made-me, on yes-I-am-going-to-stay-up-till-3-am-playing-video-games-with-friends.

It will not be long before I return to the sleeplessness of the baby years, waiting this time, with nail-biting anxiety for the sound of a returning vehicle. Drawing breath once more as the key turns in the lock.

How long can I hold a stampeding elephant?

Perhaps it’s time to loose my own grip a little and let them run.

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14 thoughts on “Running Behind Elephants

  1. The quote by Lincoln is just perfect for this. I really connected with it, as the mom of a 16- and 17-year-old. (That’s what I wrote about in my Gargleblaster too.) I liked your details here about how they are asserting their independence.

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