“Your children are not your children, they’re the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but they are not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You can give them your love but not your thoughts. They have their own thoughts. You can house their bodies but not their souls — for the souls are in a place of tomorrow that you cannot visit. Not even in your dreams. You can strive to be like them, but you cannot make them just like you.”
As I read these words and felt them resonate within me, I knew I had to write about my version.
Twenty two years ago this week, I prepared to walk my daughter Kathryn to her very first day of school. At five years old she was our stubbornly independent challenge. There was seemingly nothing she didin’t feel she could do on her own. As we prepared to leave the house, she declared that she did not want me walking her to school. She was fully intending on taking the five block walk on her own. As I insisted that it wasn’t going down that way she dug her heels in harder. After some intense negotiations, I managed to carve out a compromise. I would be allowed to walk with her to the end of the block before her school but there would be no hand holding. I accepted this compromise fully believing that she would soften on the way and allow me to go that last block to the school doors. And with that folly in my head, we set off.
There was no hand holding and as we approached the last block I was being allowed to walk, she informed me she was going to say goodbye and I needed to go home. The look on her face told me there were no further negotiations to be had.
Now before you think badly of me leaving my precious daughter to walk that last five hundred feet all alone, I at least had one last trick. As I turned back toward home, with a handshake goodbye, I ducked behind the tree that would hide me from her view. From my vantage point I was able to watch as she approached the school. My heart ached as I saw the line of parents standing there with their children, holding hands and hugging them close. And there was Kathryn, in her first day dress and that Pretty Pony pink backpack.
And then it hit me. What was the one thing I had wanted for her as I held her tiny body in my arms just moments after her birth? I wanted her to be independent, to have her own mind about things and the courage and determination to follow her dreams where ever they would take her. And now, watching her from my hiding spot behind that tree, I realized that she was going to be just fine.
All of this leads me back to the words of the prophet. We can try to relive our lives through our children. We can try to mold them to the form we would have them take but the truth is they really aren’t ours to keep. Our role is one of slowly moving away from center stage and back to the wings, where if we are wise, we quietly observe the wonder of life through their eyes. We understand that we can bring them into this world but it is their world from that moment forward and they belong to it. They will carve their path and leave their mark and if we trust them to walk that last block alone, the mark they leave, just might be great.
So as you take those first day photos and bid your children goodbye, trust them, trust yourself. They will succeed if you let them and they will flourish if you encourage them. This is their first day.