We lived in the country, and when we came to town it was a big part of our routine. Tigers, playground, bears, otters and Target. The necessities.
There was one morning in particular I remember us spending an especially long time on the playground. He had a loop established: sprint to the steps that led to the slide, climb them quick, sprint across the platform, and then barrel down the slide at top speed.
Because he was so lightweight he got going fast on the slide, and by the time he reached the bottom it always looked like he was about to flip forward onto the ground. I stopped myself from actually jumping forward to catch him, but every time I did lurch forward a little bit. An involuntary lurch, like the one that sometimes comes just as you’re falling asleep and your body says — wait, not so fast, you don’t get to relax yet.
Right after one of my lurches toward the slide I overheard two women behind me talking.
“I remember being like that,” one of the women said.
“Yep. Helicoptering over every little move,” the other agreed, and they both laughed.
I wanted in on the joke, so I looked around for this hilarious helicoptering parent they were speaking of. Darnedest thing though, no one else was around. The parent they were talking about was me.
Seven years have passed since that day, and since then we’ve had two more children. There is no denying I’m a much different parent now. A friend once said they wouldn’t have let their first kid run around unsupervised with a spoon. By the third they were like “Well, it’s a knife, but it’s a butter knife.” She was mostly joking, but I understood the sentiment. I’ve felt the loosening of the reins happen in our household — some days because there isn’t energy left to grip tight. Others, because children are children and not horses, and they won’t stay in reins long.
There was a moment though, more than a month ago now, when my body took me by surprise. The city ordinance to wear face coverings had just taken effect. At the door to the grocery store I stopped to dig in my purse for two of the masks that still felt so foreign — one for myself and one for my oldest son who was shopping with me. But then I looked up and saw he was already wearing one.
It was the opposite of comforting. There he was, standing at the cusp of the store, yes, but also at the threshold of so much more. Old enough to remember the mask I had forgotten, old enough to stand tall — taller than my shoulders now — in a world I no longer even pretended to understand. My body said to reach out and protect him, but I stopped myself short. So there I was with the old familiar lurch.
As we started to walk the store, that contraction of my body and heart slowly released, and I thought about those two women long ago. For the first time I wondered if I had it all wrong. Maybe they already understood what I had just learned — that many of us will helicopter all our lives. Whether with bodies or minds we will always lurch. And perhaps they also knew too well there was no protecting me, that I would have to get out there and learn the lesson myself.
Maybe those women were my people after all.