To Catch, To Hold, Release

A few weeks ago, I’m boiling quinoa when I look up to see Ken and Bee parade through the front door. They’re lugging a bulging leather tote of books and waving a DVD over their heads in celebration of their recent library spoils.

Mom! It’s Finding Nemo! Bee says.
Harmless, right? Ken winks.

It’s raining, so we settle into the movie after lunch and I watch, mouth agape, as this small miniature fish encounters death approximately one billion times.

So, I get it. I get that the movie was created, at least in large part, for all of us parents who have the tendency to, let’s just call it, hover. Which is me, of course. Obvious to everyone. Helicopter Mom present, accounted for.

Ken is decidedly the opposite of me when it comes to basically everything in life, so we make a great pair. He’s cool, calm, collected. He’s the fun parent, the ‘She’s fiiiiiiiiiine!’ parent, the ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ parent.

And I’m over here, sanitizing the hand sanitizer.

Suum cuique.

But wait. Marlin’s wife dies in a barracuda attack along with 399 of his children? And he only has ONE LEFT?! And everyone’s like, Oh Marlin, you’re such a helicopter parent! Oh Marlin, let Nemo live a little! Oh Marlin, what’s the worst that can happen?!

Oh Marlin, one harmless fish abduction and your only child is swiped with a cold net and sent to die in the hands of a a dentist’s niece?

No big.

I spent the entire duration of that movie in this position while Ken and Bee bounced along happily with Dory, obliviously content, grateful to witness the wild adventure.

Just keep swimmin, I hear them sing tonight while brushing their teeth.

I know that living in an attempt to avoid loss is not really living. Living in an attempt to circumvent fear is not living. Living in an attempt to sidestep death is not living.

And yet, I still find myself tightening everyone’s life jacket, adjusting the bike helmet again and again and again, checking the baby monitor three or forty times.

When I was 15, my friend died. It was no one’s fault. There was no negligence, no accident. It was a mechanical issue of the brain, that’s all. It happened.

That’s the hardest part to accept, for me.

That it just happened.

Who’s to blame for the happening?

I know the lessons we should take from tragedy. I know we are to revel in the sweetness of life, the fleeting nature of it, the undeserving gift of this big, wide love we get to share with each other.

Still, I have a hard time doing it. I have an easier time sanitizing the hand sanitizer.

It’s just that I’ve always appreciated having something to point toward, something to control, something that makes sense of it all, something that adds up.

But life isn’t math, is it?

It’s art, isn’t it?

Bernie steals Bee’s toys on a regular, rotating basis. Stuffed animals, wooden blocks, tiny wind-up chicks that spin on plastic feet. The two of them get into rousing matches of tug-of-war and, once, he bit her hand in a wild quest for the letter M alphabet block.

She cried and cried, and when she was finished, she wiped her tears and said this:

I want it to be someone else’s fault.

And after we talked about responsibility and good judgment and how it’s not wise to play tug of war with nearly-blind dogs, I understood.

I always want it to be someone else’s fault, too.

It’s just that death feels so wildly injust. We are here and then we aren’t, sometimes with little warning, sometimes by sheer accident, other times slowly and painfully, other times the opposite of that.

But always leaving something behind. Rarely, in most circumstances, with anyone to blame for the lack.

I want it to be someone else’s fault.

I’ll probably always be the kind of person who searches hard, who squints from all sides to find a reason for the reasonless. It’s not a bad thing, mostly. It makes me a pretty great contestant on Wheel of Fortune. I’m a pro at filling in the blanks, at seeing what isn’t there.

But sometimes we’re not supposed to see what isn’t there.
We’re supposed to see what is.

Marlin: How do you know that nothing bad won’t happen?
Dory: I don’t.

I still tend to err toward the hovering side of motherhood. I’m still the one watching intently on the sidelines of the playground, feigning conversation with other moms as I smile and laugh, my eyes darting to and fro, a mother hen secretly watching for danger.

I don’t know that nothing bad won’t happen.
I can’t protect her from skinned knees now, from broken hearts later.

But sometimes, I get to catch her.

Just keep swimmin.

And I get to hold her, for a moment.

Just keep swimmin.

And I get to release her into the wild, again and again and again.




(Thanks for these sweet pics, Ruth!)

  • Hi there, I’m a recent follower. I’ve never seen the movie “Finding Nemo”. While reading this, I remembered being age 6 or 7 years old watching the Christmas show “Little Drummer Boy”. It is my absolute favorite. But I distinctly remember being that young age and seeing the little lamb get run over by a chariot. The sadness I felt at that young age was tremendous. And the impression of loss connected to the spirit of Christmas remains today – grief in one hand, joy in the other. I lost a very dear friend at the age of 22 five days before his wedding – crazy young twenties antics – and I was to be a bridesmaid in the wedding party. I am the “anything can happen” person. My beloved is “I’m the luckiest guy you will ever meet” person. We are positioned like the hands of a clock, each marking a point in time, continuously revolving, once in a while overlapping. I don’t have children, but I have pets. And so the same operating system applies with a different magnitude. I admire the love and courage you have for this earthly life. Courage and compassion are two life skills swirling around me now. Happy Monday!

    • omg i remember little drummer boy! GEEEEEEZ that lamb scene!!!!!!
      and yes, pets are very much the same in my book, so i can totally relate.
      i love this line, too, monica!: “We are positioned like the hands of a clock, each marking a point in time, continuously revolving, once in a while overlapping.”

  • This post!!! This is life right…finding that balance of doing all that we can and then surrendering the rest. It’s so hard to surrender…it’s so much easier to focus on everything I can do and wrap it up all nice and pretty…but then life happens and it’s so true I want to make sense of it all…I need answers. I hate uncertainty! Sheesh, it’s beautiful and complicated. So much to learn!!!

    • ah, thank you jana! good gracious yes, i hate uncertainty as well. ;) i’m working on it, a bit!

  • Oh Erin, you have such a way with words…

    Thank you for the tears in my Monday morning coffee. I have grandchildren Bee’s age and I still feel the struggle of letting go…even after raising two very adventurous sons. I think I’ve finally accepted that THIS IS LIFE.

    • ah, i can only imagine letting go of adult children and watching them soar as parents of their own. keep up the good work, mama! :)

  • What an incredible story. I don’t even have kids yet, but I can completely related. Everyone in my life is held so close and so dear. I fear loss and death and all of these things you’re talking about. I have friend who’ve had horrific things happen to their friends and it totally freaks me out. This is such a beautiful recount of something seemingly small yet so relatable. Thank you for this.

    • oh thank you marlena! life is so funny how it requires us to accept so much of what we don’t want to have what we do. it’s the beautiful mess of it all, i imagine!

  • This is such a beautiful take on the movie “Finding Nemo”. I didn’t realize how much I was like Marlin until I read this (and Marlin annoyed me when watching it). Parenthood is HARD!

  • Mother: best and scariest job I’ve ever had. Also most frustrating, fulfilling, sweet and crazy. But really the best. Matt and I have different fears as parents (me: choking, him: SIDS then water) but we balance each other out in the day-to-day bump and bruise department. I hover more though. That’s my job, too.

    BIG HUGS, you awesome momma.

  • You fear of loosing when you love…
    When you let magic and beauty into your world and became addicted to it it’s pretty sure you won’t let go. Life is magic and beautiful. After carring your child you come to see that the world can also be an incredibile place to live in, not just a place of wars, dying and grief. After so many suffering you come to see that life also can be full of joy and that’s hard to accept: between black and white there are grays and even colours.
    I think it’s natural to fear when you love life. I just saw a movie the other day and the main character said: “nothing ever really disappears, everything changes”…
    So, good luck and keep loving!

  • Erin, Your writing brings me to tears (the good kind!) every time. You are amazing. I lost my father when I was six-and-a-half years old. I, too, tend toward being fearful and controlling and have a difficult time letting go. Baby steps, I tell myself, and I ask the little girl inside me, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” It helps, but it is definitely a tough thing to get over.

    • Oh Joanne, I’m so sorry to hear you lost your father. I can’t imagine overcoming such a hardship so young, and can only guess it’s shaped your view tremendously. Sending hugs, and massive gratitude to you for taking the time to encourage me with my own difficulties!!

  • Waaaw, you made me laugh really loud in the beginning, but of course it’s dead serious. That is life, indeed, letting go. In this I seem to be more like Ken, then like you. I choose to be a little naive in this life and believe in the good. But sometimes I think I should be ‘preventing’ a bit more. My son has more than once crossed a street with his bike without looking left znd right… So rezlly zbd things could have happened to us (but they didn’t). My mom for that reason does not want to go bike with him. But he does have to learn, right? So I let him, and I repeat and repeat and repeat everytime he has to stop and watch.

  • I am the mom hovering at the playground and then catching the glimpses of other moms judging, so I retreat a bit.. until he trips. Then I run. I don’t know if this ever wears off…Worrying. I feel like worrying has become a favorite pastime of mine since becoming a mother.

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