There is a small piece of broken glass sitting on my sister Ann's kitchen window sill. I knew it had to have a special meaning, placed there on purpose because she keeps her kitchen very neat, cleaning as she goes.
Most of her mementos appear on the refrigerator door. I love to stop and read the assortment of newspaper columns and cartoons assembled there. Occasionally Ann will frame a particularly poignant cartoon and hang it on the kitchen wall. My recent favorite shows 2 dogs standing by a dog dish. One says to the other, 'I can't eat another bite.' In the next frame both are rolling on the floor laughing. Anyone with a dog can appreciate that, unlike cats, dogs never meet a bite of food they can't eat right then. With 3 labs in my sister's household, that cartoon is a particular favorite.
There is even a unique cabinet hanging on one wall with small shelves and tiny compartments that display various memorabilia.
'Did you notice the little piece of broken glass?,' my sister asked as she proceeded to tell me this story. 'Years ago when the kids were little,' she began, 'I'd take them to the local playground. There would always be pieces of broken glass and I would always pick them up. It was just a Mom with little kids thing to do and it wasn't something I'd thought about in years.'
This particular piece of glass, however, was a new arrival. Continuing, my sister mentioned taking her youngest, now 15, to an introductory overnight at the wonderful boarding prep school she'll be attending this fall. It will mark a new phase in my sister's life, the first stage of the coming empty nest. Since Ann has made home and family her career, she has been contemplating 'what next' as her daughter's departure looms near.
'As I was about to leave the school,' she continued with her story, 'I noticed a piece of broken glass on the sidewalk and automatically picked it up.' She paused and smiled, saying, 'I realized that I'm still Mom, picking up broken glass so the kids won't get hurt. Being a mother doesn't end, it just takes on another form.'
Sometimes being a mother or a father means totally letting go of a child while that child finds his way, at whatever age. It does not mean that we don't love the child, nor does it mean that the child is not in our thoughts. What it means is that we have to keep the child in our hearts, not in our arms. Sometimes, it is the greatest love.
I know a mother who loved her son so much that she gave him all she possibly could, even supporting him well into his twenties. Then one day someone said to her, 'He is a wonderful person, with many talents. But he will not find that out until you let him go. Love him enough to let him go.'
When the mother did let go, the boy floundered at first, and blamed his mother. But, with no one to support him, he got a job, became a man, and realized that he could make it on his own. There are too many parents holding on to children who have grown up but haven't been encouraged to spread their wings. You and I know families like this. Parents do children no favors by keeping them too close. Let's all make sure we aren't smothering, not mothering, be we mother or father. There will always be pieces of broken glass to pick up, for our own or other's children.
Jean Loxley-Barnard has been a writer all her life and studied both sociology and psychology at George Washington University where she earned a B.A. Her company, The Shopper, Inc., encompasses all the Loxley-Barnard family publications - The Shopper Magazines and Doctor to Doctor Magazine. She has been in the advertising, consulting and publishing business for 39 years.
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