Last night I spent a portion of the evening taking apart a bed, getting it ready to load into the van, where it will then be transported to its new home. It took me a while, and not because the mechanics were difficult.
Sister S is moving into a new place. She's held down a job for quite a while now and is heading in what looks like the right direction.
It made me wistful, as I'm sure it does every parent, to pack things up from a childhood bedroom. It's easy to say the old days are gone, but folding blankets and disassembling bed frames makes it so tangible; makes it inescapable. It took me some time, because with each item I packed away a memory came to mind.
With the Little Mermaid bedspread came to mind the time when her mom and I painted her room pink. It was so very pink. It was the richest, deepest pink that a room could be, and still legally be called pink. I think even Barbie would blanch at the pinkness of that pink. But Sister S loved it.
The pins attached to the lampshade brought back memories of trips to Disneyland, and her chasing after Peter Pan or hoping to find Johnny Depp by some miracle. Even at her most glum and uncommunicative, a family trip to her favorite park would always bring a solid, lasting smile.
Seeing tiny equestrian accessories on the nightstand reminded me of when she and her step sisters would play with their horses. We had more horses than all the stables in Texas for at least a couple of years; maybe they weren't real, but the girls were happy enough.
And I couldn't remember how many times I'd sat on the edge of this bed and just listened to whatever was bringing her tears of grief and anguish during those tumultuous teen years, and tried to offer what advice and encouragement I could.
Last evening I probably spent more time reflecting than I did packing. And I spent a good portion of that questioning my own credentials as a stepdad, and what things I could have done better.
But it wasn't all sadness, because beneath it all was gratefulness that she's getting back on track.
And the analogy of parenting with steering a ship came to mind.
Ships have to travel on the water, and as such they are subject to the wind and the waves. It takes a strong, steady hand at the wheel to keep the rudder guiding the ship along. Without the rudder, it's unlikely a ship is going to stay on course, but instead will get driven wherever the wind takes it. And even having a good strong rudder is no guarantee of safety against a bad storm.
The point is, kids need guidance. They need a strong hand holding the rudder, guiding them along, until they have the strength to hold it and the wisdom to see the obstacles and avoid them on their own. To let a kid grow up without guidance is to guarantee his eventual shipwreck.
It's up to the parent to understand what that means, to be strong and steady and to guide with a firm hand, but doing so without being completely controlling. A parent needs to know how much force to apply and when to ease up, and knowing when it is the right time to let go completely.
Letting go is probably the hardest part of all.