On the first day of kindergarten, when our son, Mitch, was five years-old, I let go of his hand as he boarded the yellow school bus for the first time. I barely held back the tears. His hand slipped out of mine so he could reach up to grab the hand rail and stretch his little legs to manage the school bus steps.
The rule was that no parents were to board the bus with their child. But in the midst of watching my sweet boy climb up those big steps and away from me, I apparently followed him on the bus to make sure that he was safely seated. I say "apparently" as I had no idea I had done that until my husband showed me the picture he took. There I was, on the bus, oblivious to the rule and to anyone being around us.
This was my boy and I know when it is time to let go.
A few years later, I had to do the same for his younger brother, Zach, this time with the added fears of letting go of the hand of a young child with diabetes. I spent months preparing for his departure, too, making sure the school bus driver, all of his teachers, and the other parents knew to watch for him.
The realization was a painful one; he was no longer in my hands, he was in theirs.
Through the years, I grew to understand that their hands truly didn't belong in mine anymore. Yes, our hearts were with them all the time and we were a very close family. But we wanted them to become caring, independent, and confident young men.
And for that they needed both of their hands.
Flash forward to this past May of 2015, fourteen years after Mitch boarded that school bus. He was ready to move out. Yes, that first year after high school we saw him off to college (first day picture and all, much to his embarrassment). But he wanted to work and put off college for a while. So in May, instead of looking forward to the next September's "first day of school" picture, we were saying good-bye and watching him leave, this time with a moving van, and not a bus.
I didn't physically let go of his hand this time, and for both of our sakes, I held back the tears. (And, no, I didn't climb into the moving van to make sure everything was ok.)
But this time, I realized that through all those years, when I let go of their hands, something else was happening. I walked back in the house and towards my office. I wasn't sure what to do with them, my hands, my heart. I absolutely LOVE my family and my work. Yet somehow, everything had changed overnight.
What happens when you let go of your child's hand?
You both get your hands back.
Now what do we do, we have to ask ourselves? Who are we, really, without that other person's hand in ours? Separating yourself from others and learning how to honor yourself is what we all must do. It's what I want for my children and for my family and for my clients. And so here I was, being reminded to do the same for me. What could I, what should I do with my hands now?
I had a lot of choices. I could wring my hands. I could cross them over my heart and cry that those sweet years with both of our boys are over. I could shake my hand in a fist, and be mad that this was how it is "supposed" to be. I could raise my hands and celebrate! I could get back to work with fervor.
Or I could just rest them. And that is what I did.
Instead of implementing more group programs over the summer, I enjoyed meeting my clients in person, in my calm home office. I enjoyed all of the family who visited us throughout the summer, showing them all of our favorite places, rafting together, and sharing meals and stories. I spent time with Zach, cherishing even more the limited time we have left with him in our house. I visited and fed Mitch when I could, and took a close look at who I was and what I wanted to do with my hands, with my heart.
I meditated and asked for guidance on how to express my feelings and how to use my hands better, moving forward. I started looking at what I truly love to offer to my clients and to the world. What work fills my soul's purpose now, and how do I communicate it? So I painstakingly rewrote my marketing materials and website wording to show the true healing that takes place with my work.
The wording is sweeter, deeper. The words are like these: "I see my client's soul's purpose, their true self, and lead them to self-acceptance and understanding" and "I support people as they uncover their painful past, and understand how to use those experiences to grow" and "I help people heal and joyfully move forward in their lives". This is quite a switch from how I described my work before.
But it truly honors the gift that is in (both of) my hands now.
"Keep your hands to yourself!" we were often told as children. But now, instead, we get to choose for ourselves when we reach out, when we need to focus on ourselves, and when we need to ask for a hand up. Sometimes our hands stay close to us as we allow others to have their own experiences and trust that they've "got it" in their own hands. But because we care, we make sure they know that we are here, ever in the ready, to reach out and support them.
But until then, we have our own work to do.
I trust that my boys will be just fine (in fact, will be better) without me having my hand in the midst of their experiences. They need to have their own experience and they need to do their own work. I am having my own experience, doing my own work.
But now my hands rest lightly by my side, peacefully at the ready, for my children, for my family, for my clients, and last, but not least, for myself.