I went away for two days on a ‘digital cleanse.’ I escaped to the mountains and unplugged from everything.

Well, sort of.

I unplugged from everything except the two books I’m writing. And I didn’t actually unplug my cell phone because nobody in our family can handle the inability to reach one another, and we can all chalk that up to PTSD. But I did stay off Facebook and my blog for 48 hours, and that, my friends, is not nothing.

I came back yesterday just before dinner, all refreshed and renewed and ready to be a hands-on mom again. I was going to take the boys out for dinner, hear about their days without me, tell them about mine, and as Tyler says, ‘just be joyful.’

But things didn’t go quite that way.

I collected and doled out hugs and kisses, I counted freckles and measured how tall they’ve grown because they always do when I’m not looking.

And then I could immediately sense their awkward tension: they didn’t want to hang out with me. ¬†They had been busy with childcare plans for the last few days, and they really missed the baseballs and trampolines of the neighborhood.

They were trying to sort through that subtle message: Mom, I love you, I’m glad you live here, and I’m so glad to see you. And you’re not my entire life.

Touche, my boys. I love that you have lives and interests of your own, and I give myself two gold stars for fostering that right there. And I’m still going out for dinner, by the way, with or without you.

Smooches and goodbyes after about 0.2 seconds of touching home base. Cheers to well adjusted children with great security in their environment and relationships, who understand that the anchor holds.

[One Hour Later.]Little girl looking up in the sky on beautiful colorful air kite

They were ready to come back home before I had returned, and all of a sudden, all of the slack in the heartstrings was too much for them.

Mommy, get home now. And where were you and who said you could go anywhere and why weren’t you home when we were ready for you?

There were tears and sadness and questions of priorities. We reviewed what I’ve been saying for years: Guys, I’m here when you need me, and you do not always need me. We all had a plan, we knew the plan, and I always come back. See? Here I am.

“Mommy, now that you’re home, can we go back out to play?”

Therein lies the balance of parenting independence: Letting them run free within boundaries and curfews, and yet staying close enough to be there when they’re ready to come home. It’s the whole idea of roots and wings.

Oh, and by the way, while you’re holding the string to their kite as they soar in the breeze, keep your heart solid enough to balance the tension of learning whether your presence is necessary, preferred, or if it’s just best for you to take a step back.

Parenting is not for the insecure or the faint of heart.

And then there was a quivering chin and a gentle voice, “Mommy, I just don’t want you to think that somebody else is more important to me than you are.”

Sweet boy. It’s not your job to make me feel important.

“Buddy, I don’t feel that way. Listen to these words, okay? We make a great team. You can spend time doing other things with other people, and we will still be a great team. Our family is tight and important to each other, and we can love other people too.”

Come to think of it, this was a great teachable moment. I chose to insert this nugget of truth regarding their mom who goes on dates with men.

“We love other people differently than we love each other, and that’s absolutely okay. Sometimes I spend time doing other things with other people, whether I’m writing or working or having dinner with a grownup. You might feel sometimes like I love someone else more than you guys, but I want you to know this: I will love them differently than I love you, and we will still make a great team.”

“Mom, you’ve said that like 19 times now. Can I just go play?”

And the breeze picks up, the kite pulls, and I loosen the string once again.

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