I’ve been thinking about the dance we humans are forever engaged in, the one in which all the steps are either about holding on or letting go, and the most complicated (beautiful) sequences of all involve doing both at the same time.

Recently, I was talking to my friend about parenthood. I told her that, more and more, my parenting seems to be centered around the art of letting go. It’s hard. For all of my sons’ lives, I’ve been their guide, holding their hands, taking them on adventures, telling them what I think, what I believe, what I know. But they’re taller than I am now. However I may feel about it, they’re not boys anymore. They’re young men, their lives unfurling before them like a wide open highway.

These days, their adventures don’t always include me, and my job as mom isn’t so much about holding their hands as it is about feeling their acceleration, their hunger for flight… and letting go. (Even just writing that makes me feel uneven, that terrible pause your stomach makes at the top of the roller coaster, even as the car you’re in hurdles suddenly downward.) I’m excited for all that lies before them, and I ache for all I won’t see because this is the part they have to do on their own. Like I did. Like we all do.

So, I’m thinking about letting go, but also about holding on, because life is so rarely just one thing or the other. My oldest dog, Ash, has started falling a lot. He falls a few times every walk. For now, he can almost always get back up on his own and he’d rather run to keep up with Lexi (half his age) then risk being left behind.

This weekend I gave him a bath on the grass. I used the hose, and he leaned into me while I wet him down and soaped him up and rinsed him off. I held on to him. Tight. I whispered in his ear that he was a good boy, that I was right there. He likes when I do that, but not because he’s scared. Ash doesn’t think about what will happen next. He doesn’t think about how short life is, how everything changes, how staying present is maybe the best magic of all.

Ash is always present. When I hold him tight and whisper in his ear, he enjoys the contact for what it is: our connection, our moment. He’s happy, and only I’m conscious of where we’re paused, at the top of that roller coaster, in the fragile, sacred space between holding on and letting go.

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