Let him go

I let him go. Released his hand that I was clutching onto just a minute ago, as the minibus came into view. "Bye my love, call me when you reach, take care and don't........." My instructions were drowned in the drone of the bus as my son hastily got on, giving me a big smile which made me forget what I was saying. The bus driver shut the door, though he did pause for half a second assuming I would climb in too. Maybe I should have done just that. I waved goodbye to my son as the bus moved forward only to stop at a traffic light right ahead. "Let's run and say another bye to your brother" I tugged at my younger son's hand as we both laughed and started to run towards the bus, eager to catch another glimpse of my son who was travelling all by himself in a local bus, for the very first time. Too late. The traffic light turned green and the bus sped ahead. I walked back home with a zillion thoughts racing through my mind. Had I made the right decision letting him go alone for his rugby practice? What if he wouldn't be able to say 'Bus stop please' in Cantonese, should I have noted down the minibus number? 'Stop it', I chided myself, shaking my head as if to make the thoughts go away and held on tight to my son's hand as we both walked back home lost in our own worlds. 

You might wonder how old this boy is, whose mum is making such a big fuss about him going for his after-school class by himself? Well....he is 10. If you think he is too young to travel alone then you must know that he is probably the only child in his class who is still accompanied by his mum everywhere! I know scores of kids his age both boys and girls who travel to school and to after-school activities all by themselves. Some had even started doing so last year, a few even before that! So is he old enough to be by himself? Maybe....but I wanted to be sure, wanted to wait for the right time when he felt confident enough and I felt secure enough to let him do so.

I have been living outside India for more than seven years now, but my thinking is still very much based on my upbringing in Bombay. "Never accept sweets from strangers" were my mum's first words of caution as we stepped into Primary school. News, in those days was all about children drugged and kidnapped right near their schools and my mother had made sure that we know each gory detail, enough to keep us on high-alert the minute we stepped out of our comfort zone. My school was barely a five minute walk from home and yet each day a chauffeur driven car was sent to drop-off and collect us. Even when we were allowed to walk home by ourselves, we were given a set of instructions on how to walk, where to look and the pace of walk. I guess a bit of my nervousness is rooted in this upbringing, besides of course the fierce desire to protect my children.

The other reason why I find it difficult to let go is because I don't want to let go. What's wrong with that I ask? Raising my kids, looking after them, taking them to after-school activities, volunteering for their school trips, are the reasons why I quit the corporate world. It gives me a chance to be with them, listen to them, know them inside-out and I take great pride in doing so. This has been my full time job all these years as a stay-at-home mum and now if someone asks me to quit it's not very easy to let go. Yes they are growing up, they might not need me as much as they did before, and I do like the occasional breathing space, but a complete let-go is like losing my job, which I won't accept without a fight! OK jokes apart, can someone tell me when is the ''right'' time to set them free? In the past whenever I have thought of sending my son alone for an activity, I didn't have a valid excuse for not being able to accompany him - I was always available! My friends ridiculed me for picking-up and dropping-off my kids to school, but honestly I could not find any other job as important or as satisfying as that. They needed me and I needed them. 

I know, I know. Life goes on, things are bound to change. Whenever I hear new mums babble about their babies not eating solids, not getting potty-trained, not walking yet, I want to tell them to stop, step aside and just watch them grow.  Send them to school as late in life as you can, be with them, cherish them, hold them, cuddle them. There is no need to rush them to achieve their milestones, no need to make them grow up too soon. Cause eventually they will and then we would want them to slow down.

My son holding onto my hand when he was 2.
It's time for me to let go now, uncurl that small hand that has tightly gripped mine these past 10 years, finger by finger, touch by touch, making sure that he is ready to face the world by himself, letting him know that he can choose his own pace, make his own way and that I would be there just a step behind him to hold him steady if need be.

Two hours later a ping on my mobile phone makes me jump. It's a text from him.  'Almost home now'. I am so relieved and I let out a long deep breath. My younger son ran down to the lobby to meet his brother. Guess he is also not used to being away from him for too long. Five minutes later my son walks in through the door and I couldn't help but notice a slight change in his gait, like a little spring, bobbing up and down - a style that comes with confidence and independence!

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