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Flying Lessons & Job Descriptions: A Story About Letting Go


I watched something a few weeks ago that strangely ended up being a lifesaver during a bittersweet summer. I want to pass it along now as a flotation device, of sorts, in case anyone else needs it to keep their head above water while drowning in copious amounts of tears.

It was a short interview between actress, producer, business mogul Reese Witherspoon and activist, author of Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle. The topic was motherhood and the segment aired on Reese’s new On Demand show titled Hello Sunshine.

When Glennon is asked to share the best piece of parenting advice, her tip came from an unlikely source in her friend Liz Gilbert, writer of Eat, Pray, Love. Glennon admits, with irony, that Liz is always her go-to parenting source, probably because she doesn’t have children and has a clearer and yes, saner, perspective from the outside in. I’ll paraphrase:

“Here’s the deal. You and your kids are on an airplane with a lot of turbulence right now. The kids are scared because the plane is shaking. You are scared because the plane is shaking. What do we do when the flight is shaky? We look to the flight attendants, right? If their faces looked scared, we lose it. If they look calm, we are not going to lose it. Right now, your kids are buckled in their seats and you’re the flight attendant. They are looking at you to figure out if this plane is going down or not. But turbulence isn’t going to take down the plane. It’s not going to take it down because turbulence in planes and in families are normal and y’all are all going to make it. Just keep serving the freaking peanuts.”

I just served a whole lot of peanuts, y’all.

Two weeks ago, I sent my youngest off as a sophomore to Asheville School to board. Three whole years earlier than I ever thought. But I knew, deep down in my gut, she would come to us at some point with this particular request. I knew because she is made for the rare experience it provides. Fiercely intelligent, independent and driven, she loves to keep busy and challenged and forever on her way to bigger and more exciting experiences. Oh, and she hates hot weather. And sand.

Meaning she was more than ready to hurry up and nestle into a centuries-old campus surrounded by the hazy Smokey mountains and its lush evergreen scent.

Me, I wasn’t ready for it at all. But that doesn’t matter. We prep their whole lives for this very day; the day we know we’ve done our job and they are ready for the world. But y’all, you can’t prep for something like this and now my job just ended earlier than anticipated. I had to punch out.

Only, I learned something else. At the Asheville School on opening day, they send the parents to the Graham Theater to talk to the school’s phycologist. Because they know, and we know, the kids are going to be alright. The parents not so much.

And here’s another thing that resonated. As a society, we look at parenting like a “job,” not a role. I call it that all the time – a job, I mean. Because it’s hard and labor intensive and rewarding and beautiful all at the same time. Though this particular job doesn’t have clear perimeters, universal guidelines and, clearly identifiable and available boxes to check off on spreadsheets. It can be tricky. Yes, there is a whole heck of a lot of advice and books and Ted Talks about parenting, but somewhere along the line, we have to remember that our “job” is not a lifetime appointment. There will come a time to redefine your role as a parent. You are no longer their manager; their party planner, friendship smoother, play date maker, homework helper, back-to-school shopper, college tour taker…

It’s the day you realize the way to raise a smart, independent, inquisitive, kind person is to let them go, without you, on their very own way.

Besides, if you don’t, you will end up getting fired anyway and nobody likes getting fired.

And the other interesting thing I learned is our role or “job” doesn’t go, entirely, away. You end up welcoming, happily, the part-time “position” as a consultant. Why? Because all the many tears, the fights, the “are we there yets?”, the fender benders called life . . . all of the exhaustion . . . earned us some serious street creds along the way. We have worked our butts off for almost two decades and deserve to sit back and just watch without having to do anything. We can just kick our feet up, sit in silence . . . and observe for a while and take it all in because we earned, and we learned, a whole heck of a lot along the way. There is fresh wisdom we can share.

If they ask for it.

Was it hard? Hell yeah, it was more than that.

Especially, when it turned 5:30 pm and it’s time to say goodbye. And she looks at you and you see her not as the little freckled, dimple-cheeked girl in pigtails, but as a beautiful, brave young woman . . . And only you, because you are forever tied in an indescribable way, can see the tears she’s holding back, the flicker of doubt and panic in her eyes as she tries to blink away the tears of starting the unknown. And you, only you know . . . that every skinned knee, every laugh, every second, every everything has led just the two of you to the next chapter of life’s journey. And it’s been so worth it.

How do you not lose it?

Well . . .

You just keeping serving the freaking peanuts.

It’s all going to be alright.

It always is.


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