Loosen, But Don’t Let Go

Galit Breen essays

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Her glare takes my breath away.

Mouth set.

Eyes teary.

Voice loud.

“No I won’t!” she yells. Her feet stomp, her door slams.

I stand with her unfinished homework in my hands wondering how we got here. The rest of my family is shockingly quiet, equally stunned.

As a teacher, and in retrospect, I know to give my daughter some space. Walk away. Talk with Jason. Make a plan. Model mature behavior.

But as a mother, all I know is that my heart hurts.

I follow her upstairs, force her to return to finish her homework. Even in the moment I realize that a worksheet isn’t worth this.

Red rimmed eyes.

Flushed cheeks.

Slumped shoulders.

I know, but I don’t back down. Sending her back again and again until every math problem is correct, every open space colored in.

I want to reach out, squeeze her close, and tear up the paper, naming it unimportant. But I don’t.

Because I want her to be responsible and have a strong work ethic, yes. But mostly because my feelings are hurt and I am angry.

Grudgingly, she finishes. Warily, I accept.

Jason and I fall into the mid-day routine. Rest time is around the corner and we are motivated.

Lunch is made.

Teeth are brushed.

Books are read.

Everyone is finally quiet. Jason’s eyes are cautious, unsure how to approach me.

“She was way out of line there,” I start.

“She was,” he soothes. “Go hug her. Find out what’s wrong.”

“She has to know that there are consequences,” I say. My voice is cold. I am defiant.

“She does. She knows.” He pauses. “She also needs to know that everything will be fine,” he continues. “That she can come back. You would tell me to do the exact same thing.” He seals the deal.

Guarded, shaky, nervous, I tiptoe into her room, settle onto her bed and hug her close.

She wraps her arms around me tightly and curls in.

I look into her eyes. Thankfully familiar, the same in every stare-down.

Nonstop newborn crying.

Defiant toddler no's.

Clumsy preschool spills.

And horrific school age meltdowns.

After each hard moment, there is this softness. This familiarity. And I grasp at it.

There are three things that I want her to know, and feel ready to say. That was really difficult. We’ll talk more later. I love you. Just one more hug and I leave her to rest.

Downstairs, I sip my coffee in blissful silence wondering about this new kind of mothering that I’ve been fighting against.

I don’t wear this skin comfortably yet, and neither does she. We’re desperately trying to carve out our new relationship.

A whirlwind of advice swirls through my mind. Be the adult. Don’t take it personally.

This is normal, healthy even. Let go.

Not yet, I think.

Instead, the words that I carefully place inside my heart and grasp onto with every fiber of my being are these: loosen, but don’t let go.

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Galit Breen

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