Being a parent is about letting go. From the moment that umbilical cord is cut, it’s all about making more and more space between you and your child.
Here’s how it goes: breastfeeding gradually ceases to be the main source of sustenance. Then the baby learns to crawl, then walk, then run from you. Pre-school and kindergarten takes them farther away as they make friends. And those connections only widen and deepens.
And then they go parasailing.
It wasn’t something Smartmom ever expected. In fact, it wasn’t really an activity on her radar at all. It was just a day at the beach on Block Island with Hepcat, the Oh So Feisty One and her friend, Luvbud.
And then OSFO noticed a tiny yellow parachute with a smiley face on it flying high above and behind a speeding motorboat.
“There’s a person attached to that thing,” she said.
And so began the longing to be that person flying high above the Atlantic Ocean.
“Can we do that?” OSFO asked with just the slightest amount of pleading in her voice.
Smartmom didn’t even answer because she figured the urge would pass and OSFO and Luvbud would soon settle on a safer beach pastime, like collecting seashells or burying each other in the sand.
But the urge didn’t pass. And, believe it or not, Hepcat started to egg them on.
“You really want to do it? You want to give it a try?” he goaded.
Smartmom was shocked. Hepcat was usually the hyper-cautious one. From a family of engineers, he knows how everything works and, therefor, just how dangerous everything is. He’s the parent who always puts the kibosh on kooky ideas that will result in emergency room visits or major surgery.
The fact that he was encouraging this was irksome — and it made Smartmom mad.
“It’s ridiculously safe,” he told Smartmom. If the string breaks there’s the parachute, if the parachute breaks, they just fall into the water.”
Smartmom put the whole thing out of her mind as they walked along the beach. She figured it was a remote possibility until she heard Hepcat say.
“Let’s walk over to the harbor and see how much it costs.”
Smartmom was game only because she figured the cost would be prohibitive.
But Smartmom didn’t factor in salesmanship. When they got to the motorboat, a woman selling tickets on the dock was determined to get the girls into the boat.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime, girls. You’ll love it. You can go up together. The captain has been doing this for 20 years. Nothing to worry about. Everyone loves it. We’ve got a boat leaving in a few minutes.”
When Smartmom found out that it cost $75 per person for a seven-minute ride or a 14-minute tandem ride she was dead set against it. This trip to Block Island was already costing them plenty. Why did they need to add this unnecessary expense? But Hepcat felt differently.
“This is one of those confidence-building activities,” he said. “One of those things that makes you feel like you can do anything. It’s great for girls.”
Smartmom hardly recognized her ever-cautious husband. Then again, hadn’t he regaled them with tales of a youth spent riding motorcycles, hot-dog skiing, skateboarding and driving sports cars?
He wanted his little girl to fly and there was no way around it.
Reluctantly, Smartmom said yes. But first she wanted to call Luvbud’s mom back home in Brooklyn. In a moment of crystal-clear great parenting, Smartmom thought it seemed right that she should call Luvbud’s mom for a signoff on her daughter flying 500 feet in the air. Luvbud’s mom gave her OK. The girls cheered.
As the girls got on the boat, the captain said that Smartmom and Hepcat could ride along for free.
Smartmom was pleased. Of course she had no intention of letting her baby fly up in the air without her being on board — free or not free.
By the time OSFO and Luvbud were strapped into the harnesses, Smartmom had a lot of confidence in the captain. A lovely guy licensed by the US Coast Guard, he’d flown more than 40,000 people since 1989.
Smartmom stopped herself from asking OSFO if she was feeling all right, if she really wanted to go up there, if she wanted to change her mind. She and Luvbud didn’t seem to have any reservations. They looked excited and ready to go as they watched the previous tandem couple being lowered down.
Smartmom watched nervously as the girls were slowly released into the air like a kite. Before she knew it, they were soaring high above Block Island’s waters.
The view was probably breathtaking for them. For Smartmom, it was anxiety inducing to see her daughter in the sky. She could barely see her face and kept asking Hepcat how they looked through the viewfinder of his camera.
“Do they look scared? Are they all right?” she asked.
“They’re fine,” he said. “Can’t you see, she’s making the thumbs-up sign? They’re kicking their feet.”
It was true. The girls were flailing their arms and swinging their legs like they were on the big girl swings in JJ Byrne Playground in the newly misnamed Washington Park. They looked like they didn’t have a care in the world.
Big deal. Smartmom was an emotional wreck the entire time they were up there — not that she let on! She made small talk with the captain and his young mate. She asked the previous couple how it felt to be up there.
“It’s so quiet. It’s so peaceful,” the woman said.
On the boat, the captain played Steely Dan songs at high volume and Smartmom felt a blur of feelings that included elation, pride in her brave girl, and even shame. What mother would send her daughter 500 feet in the air? What a crazy thing to do?
But then she got hit with something like the world’s biggest metaphor. Isn’t that rope up to the parasail the umbilical cord that Smartmom has never actually been able to cut? Shouldn’t a mother let her child soar (even if it is frightening and stomachache inducing?)? If her daughter felt ready to do something new (within reason), shouldn’t her mom go along with it and be brave. Isn’t that what growing up is about?
Yes, dammit, it’s all about letting go.
When the captain’s mate started pulling in the string, Smartmom felt her beating heart slow down. As the girls got closer she could see their smiling faces. They didn’t look scared; they looked accomplished and happy, especially when the captain let them dip their toes in the water before getting back on the flight deck. They squealed with laughter.
And so did Smartmom, who was happy to have her daughter in her arms as the motorboat speeded back to shore.
It felt like they both had accomplished something important.