On Children

A few weeks ago, Melissa Harris-Perry came under fire for this MSNBC promo. Predictably, the right wing media was all over it. How dare she say your children don’t belong to their parents?  What is she: some kind of communist? And why is she egging on the 47% to take even less responsibility than they already do? Heads spun. Mouths frothed. Pundits pundited. More grist for the 24-hour news mill. I like MHP. And I agree with her on this. And so does Kahlil Gibran.

In 1923, a collection of Gibran’s essays were published in “The Prophet.”  New Age before New Age was cool. And of all the essays in that book, the one that resonated with me most was “On Children.” I read it first in high school, before I knew anything much about adoption, and long before I would become a parent through adoption. Perhaps it was the incubating Seyyal in me that was so touched by the first stanza.  I was in a family, but not necessarily of that family. That, in order to be me, I needed to be free of that family.

Life ensued, and the work left my mind until I became a parent. And then it took on new meaning for me. The universe had brought me this child – not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone – but my responsibility. My responsibility to raise and nurture, guide, and love and then give back. Too often, I have seen parents treat their children like trophies. Like testaments to their success as parents and people. They cling to their children like the most heinous of stage parents: push, push, do, do, go, go. Imperfection is not an option. Failure is close to criminal. I have seen bright little faces turn dark with worry. I have seen souls crushed. Flowers turned to weeds.

When my children were babies, I told myself the very most important thing I could teach them was to love themselves. To love others. To be able to laugh.  Then, as they grew into their teenage years, I regularly told them “I’m going to make you a responsible, productive member of society if it kills you!”

This Saturday, my oldest graduates from college. It has been a long journey, fraught with frustration … on all sides. She’s made me laugh; she’s made me cry; she’s made me want to throttle her until she went limp. There have been victories and disappointments. I’ve watched her trip and thrown myself under her to break her fall. I’ve let her fall and helped her up.  I sat back and – as much as it hurt me – let her figure it out for herself. But much more often, I’ve watched her soar. Seen her little spirit grow. Watched her little legs pump furiously as she finally figured out how to ride a two-wheeler alone.

But this week-end, the wheels come off for real. Always one to dwell on my failings, I worry if I’ve taught her all she needs to know. I look at her sometimes and think how much more naive she seems than I at 22. In an attempt to give her the things I felt she needed that I did not have, have I given her too much? Heck: at 22, she’s done more, seen more than I have at 51. That can only serve her well. But still, I worry. I worry that the world will hurt her, use her up, try to break her spirit. I worry the unconditional love she’s been surrounded with all her life at home may not provide adequate shelter in a world that is often cruel just because it can be.

Once again, we are on the brink. She is ready to move forward, but my selfish mother-love wants to hold her back. Press her to my breast. But she is the world’s. She is not mine.  I wish her well.

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