It snowed last night, and this morning I was driving with Sophia and Max in the car. I fretted about the snowy roads, and Sophia hastened to assure me that the people who drive the snowplows had already put down salt, which was sand, which made it not slippery. Sophia is not entirely clear on the process, but she is entirely confident in the abilities of the people in charge to make the roads safe.
This led to a conversation about salt being used to melt ice, and it jostled free a memory.
When Tre was two, we lived in an apartment. The second floor, actually, and the stairs up to our front door were outside. During snowy weather, the management company would send someone around to heavily salt the stairs, which were always in shade and so would never melt otherwise. Tre was fascinated by the salt, the large bluish-white crystals that looked nothing like the stuff in the shaker on the table. But we CALLED it salt, and he was possessed of a burning desire to taste it.
I was pregnant with Max at the time, so we would make our way up the stairs like this: I would grip the railing with one hand, dangling whatever had to be carried up from my wrist. The other hand gripped Tre's pudgy hand, and we each planted one foot on the stair in front of us and hauled the rest of ourselves up to meet it.
It took a while.
The whole way up, Tre leaned in toward the stair in front of him, his head cocked to the side so he could watch me with one eye and then reach energetically in the opposite direction with his tongue.
"Tre." I said, for the one trillionth time, "Do not lick the stairs. That salt is not for eating. It will make you sick." And he knew I was going to say that and I knew he couldn't help it, he wanted SO BAD to taste the salt, and over and over we made our way up the stair, my hand tugging his hand back, keeping his tender pink tongue safe from the bite of the stair salt.
And see? That was my job. It was what I was supposed to do, for multiple years. Not just the stair salt, but other things. I kept him from running out in the road and from eating things off the floor. I buckled him in his car seat and wiped off his face after he'd painted it with pudding. It was my job, and if I'd shrugged and let go of that soft hand, let him dive into the stair salt or whatever terrible idea he'd conceived of at the moment, I would have been a bad mother.
But now he's pulling free anyhow, and somehow it's my job to let go. He didn't get into his first choice college, it turns out. But while he was waiting to hear, he figured out that his second choice was a better choice anyhow, and the fact that it's out of state doesn't change that for him.
I don't want him two states away. It feels wrong, on a cellular level. How can he go so far away? How can my hands be free of the job of keeping him alive? Everyone assures me that this is good and right, that he has to be free to make his own decisions, and that he probably won't go lick the stairs.
I know it's true. It just doesn't feel true.