It is hard to watch your children do something that you know will hurt them, even if they love it more than anything in the world. It is hard to allow them the space to make their own choices, even if you know how those choices will turn out.
But a big part of parenting is doing just that. We spend so long believing that the hardest part of parenting is holding on.
Holding on to a newborn you are sure is going to slip from your clumsy hands. Holding on to your sanity as you fumble through the day on no sleep. Holding on to a spoon, slippery with mushy peas. Holding on to a toddler’s hand as they take wobbly steps. Holding on to art work and memories of misspoken words. Holding on until they are just a little older.
No, the hardest part isn’t holding on. It’s letting go. Letting go of their hand on the first day of school. Letting them make real mistakes. Letting them try. Letting them fall.
There is inherent tension between our instinct to protect our children from harm at all costs and our duty to let them learn how to make choices for themselves.
For us, that struggle invariably centers around the faulty DNA that, at best, causes physical limitations and, at worst, causes unbearable pain.
For us, the struggle culminates every year with a choice between their greatest dream and our worst nightmare – UVA Basketball camp.
For several hours, the boys gleefully run up and down the courts at JPJ, shoot hoops with their idols, and get to be like all the other kids.
What euphoria that is. Not just for them, but for us.
But just like Cinderella’s coach turns back in to a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight, some time around noon on the first day, reality crashes down on them. On me.
They change shoes, they ice their feet, they pretend they’re fine even as I watch them limp down the court as the other boys streak past. I see their strained faces as they will themselves to ignore the excruciating pain and the inevitability of incapacitation.
And in those moments, I blink back my own tears and wonder whether I have made a mistake by letting go too soon.
They are the tears that burn. Not just my cheeks which are flushed from running between two practice courts, juggling three bags filled with shoes, bandages, surgical scissors, and gauze. They are the tears that burn deep inside with the memories of my own failed attempts to push the limits of what my body can do and the intimate knowledge of the consequences those choices bring.
It is hard to let go.
But we did. Partially because they have to learn for themselves what their limitations are. Partially because I wanted to believe, like they did, that this time might be different. That perhaps they, unlike me, could will themselves to do the impossible.
They couldn’t of course. But they never gave up trying.
Yes it is hard to let go. But sometimes the hardest things are the ones that make your heart bigger.
Like when Will won the award for Thankfulness, one of the program’s 5 Pillars.
Or when the coaches created a Perseverance award for Jack.
Or when the trainers and the players and the staff sat with them, supported them, and cheered for them, even as they hobbled down the court.
Or when Tony told them he was proud of their determination.
Or when Coach Sanchez gave them both piggyback rides to lunch and then took my keys and moved my car to the loading dock so we wouldn’t have to walk up the steps.
Or when we saw them struggle and fall and refuse to give up.
Yesterday they saw the coach of a top ten basketball program hold up a copy of The Giving Tree and tell 250 boys that the greatest happiness comes not from winning but from servanthood. From loving other people more than yourself.
Yesterday they were the beneficiaries of that love.
Yesterday they learned that bad things happen and beautiful things happen and sometimes they are one in the same.
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