I WATCH HIM WATCHING THE SUNSET. I can sense his nervousness. Tomorrow is a big day after all. Starting secondary school that is. We’ve just been for a jog and we are standing in the middle of the playing fields at our local park watching as the sun sets over the Belfast Hills. It’s a beautiful sight. As we watch in silence I stand near him. My heart bursts with pride, I love the young man he has become. At the same time my heart aches with sadness. This new chapter marks the end of something. Certainly, the beginning of an exciting new time, but also the end of something. His childhood has been fleeting and although I am so delighted to journey into these new days with him, something in me mourns the end of those years. He is now the same height as me. No longer can I pick him up for a cuddle. No longer does he run and jump into my arms. Yet still, he is my wee boy.

The other morning, I was wakened by a small voice whispering: “Mum, do you want to hear about my cool dream?” My crazy, creative middle son then proceeded to pour out a tale of water-dissolving wolves, a lego-headed Dad and ferocious giants. I drowsily listened to the lengthy story, evidence of an intense imagination at play. I was fascinated by the complexity of the plot and the excitement with which the details were relayed to me. When was the last time I had such an interesting dream of intrigue and adventure?

The days move forward rapidly. Summer draws to a close. The evenings are beginning to draw in and Autumn is just around the corner. I feel like the years are running away from me. At times I feel like I cannot keep up with all the changes. As we move into this new time with our oldest child, I am aware that the influence we have as parents will diminish as friends begin to take a more pronounced place in their lives. We can only hope we have done enough to enable and equip them to make sensible choices. It’s hard to stand back, to allow them the freedom to make their own decisions, to make mistakes even. To allow them to learn about life in all of its complex wonder, to sometimes keep quiet, to observe, to support without being overbearing or forceful.

Last night as a I contemplated my oldest son going off to secondary school, I thought about the many adventures we have had over the past 12 years. It has been magnificent, beyond my wildest dreams. The places we have been, the conversations we have had, the plans we have made – what a privilege it has been to be part of it all. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. I think about the dreams he has shared with me, like his younger brother, crawling into bed for a snuggle and recounting adventurous tall tales from the land of nod. I think about the hopes and ambitions he has told me about – plans to travel the world, to race cars, to study mechanical engineering, to design eco-friendly cars…so many big plans to pursue. The world is his oyster as they say.

I watched this morning as he met up with his friends and bravely took those new steps into a new school. He looked back and smiled at me. I smiled back and made a vow, to hold his dreams close to my heart. As he steps out into this new phase, I let go a little, I will release him…little by little, day by day. I will walk with him. I have got his back. He can lean on me. It is painful to let go a bit, sure. But it’s the way of the world. To take a step back and let them flourish. We can’t keep them as little ones forever, wouldn’t that be nice? But we can stand with them. As they move into the complicated and messy teenage years we can walk the journey with them, sometimes silent and still, but still there offering reassurance. When they don’t know the right way to go, or seem to be off on a path that you know isn’t quite right, still you can hold them. Still you can hold their dreams for them. Still you can remind them of their plans for adventure and life to the full. Still, you can hold their dreams…


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