My 26-year-old son showed up at home unexpectedly a few days ago…on his new motorcycle. He appeared in the kitchen, holding a helmet and excitedly beckoning me outside to show me his new acquisition. I had no inkling that he had been thinking of learning to ride a motorcycle, let alone buying one, so it was very surprising, to say the least. And I will admit to having a rush of trepidation for his safety, as he doesn’t have the greatest driving record with cars, which suddenly, compared to a motorcycle, seem like paragons of safety.
But then he told me that riding a motorcycle was something he had wanted to do for a very, very long time. He had apparently been mulling it over for months, if not years, unsure if he dared to do it. And he told me that the reason he finally decided to sign up for a motorcycle safety class and get his license was because of…me.
He had watched me, in my early 50s, leave my comfort zone and break out of my box by learning to kiteboard. He had asked me about my equipment, which was stored in one of the bedrooms upstairs, on a previous visit, and seemed both perplexed and impressed that his mom was capable of doing something so out of character. He later told me that it was seeing me overcome my own self-imposed limitations and fears that inspired him to do something he’d always wanted to do but had hesitated about.
It is one of the most amazing, yet unexpected moments I have ever experienced as a mother. We all want our children to grow and experience the world and be adventurous, but even when we don’t want to constrain our children, it can happen through the insidious, invisible process of observation. Children pay attention, and like sponges, they soak up fears as well as hopes. But in this case, my totally alien decision to do something as extreme as kiteboarding became a catalyst for my son. It wasn’t a deliberate lesson on my part, to show him how I’d broken out of and moved beyond my fears to live a piece of a different life from the one that would seem to have been long since determined for me. I had grown accustomed to the assumption that twenty-something young men really don’t notice, or especially care about, what their mothers do. It was a moment of that invisibility, when I was pursuing something important to me, never considering that this work of my hands, my actions, were actually very visible to my son. And it’s because it wasn’t deliberate, because my son quietly witnessed what I was doing and took it as a sign of courage for his own explorations, that it was such a rare moment, for both of us.
And isn’t this one of the greatest things that a parent can provide to a child? Not material advantages, not just educational opportunities and enriching experiences, not life lessons carefully explicated, but the freedom to explore the opportunities of this world, to be unconstrained, to be thirsty for life. It is their observations of us during moments when we may not even be aware that we’re being observed, the seemingly invisible work of our own hands, that convey the most powerful love we have to bestow.