The Day My Son Flew Into The Sky

He had been waiting for this since he was two years old.

For as far back as we can remember, Everest has wanted to fly. Many young kids, especially boys, have a penchant for things that go – trucks, cars, trains, boats – but for Everest it was more than a stage; it was a calling. He wasn’t only interested in making airplanes fly around the room in play. He wanted to know how they worked, what made them fly, how a jet engine functioned, and the history of the aviation. When he was three years old he received a plastic jet engine that he could put together and within a few hours it was complete. This is what passion looks like. He’s blessed to have it and our only job as parents has been to listen to it, nurture it, and support it. And, as he grew, to get our own fear out of the way enough to support his calling.

When he was nine years old, I learned that he could start glider training at thirteen and possibly solo (fly without an instructor in the back seat) at fourteen. It seemed far away, but before we knew it he was thirteen, turning fourteen at the end of summer, and it was time to begin. I called the local gliderport and scheduled his first lesson for the end of May.

Fear told me many stories about why we shouldn’t let him fly: he’s too young; why take the risk? What if something happens? What if the tow line breaks? What if the instructor has a heart attack? You know the drill. Fear breathes its lines down your neck and whispers them into your ears because it simply cannot bear the risk of loss. But to prevent this young man from flying would sentence him to a life not worth living. Flying is where he feels most alive –  it’s his oxygen and his joy – and I’ve known for many years that I would need to deal with my fear so that I could support his dream.

The morning arrived. Everest was ecstatic. My husband, younger son, and I were worried, to say the least. My husband had to take my son to his art class, so we said goodbye, Everest and I drove to the glider-port, and he jumped out of the seat the second we arrived. Not a moment to lose. He introduced himself to his instructor, and off they went to begin his official training. I stood there in the warm Colorado sun, Rocky Mountains jutting up in the background, and watched him step into the center of his calling. He and his instructor talked as they walked around the plane, and I could see Everest absorbing every word.

Finally, it was time for take-off. He stepped into the pilot’s seat (my baby; how could he be sitting in a pilot’s seat?) and before I knew it they were taxiing down the runway behind the tow plane. And then he was in the air.

And then I cried.

Luckily I was on the phone with my friend, Carrie, and she held the space for my tears. Through broken words I said, “This is truly the moment of watching him walk into the forest alone,” referring to the indigenous practice of sending young men alone into the forest for their vision quest initiation into manhood. Sending a child into the unknown is just as much an initiation for the parents as it is for the child, and in tribal cultures the mother is surrounded by her women-clan and the father is with the men. Where was my clan? I stood alone, crying, held through technology by my soul-sister, texting with my husband who was taking our younger son to a class, and aware of the loss of the circle that should have surrounded me. Mostly I cried because my heart was wide open, connected to the river of feelings that defines open-heartedness: fear, pride, loss, vulnerability, excitement. I cried because what else is a mother to do with her firstborn flies into the sky, beginning the path that will lead him into part of the work he’s meant to do on this planet?

After the tears moved through me I gazed up and simply marveled that my son was up there, flying, soaring, gliding like the owls and hawks he loves so much. Fear and grief dissolved and the beauty of life and change and growing up emerged in the crystalized aftermath. I trusted that he would be fine. I stared in awe as they circled and floated in the sky, embodying the miracle of flight.

That’s my son up there!

When he landed he was ecstatic, of course. He was lit up from the inside, the kind of high-beam joy that happens when you’re living out your passion. Everest told me a long time ago, “You know why I love flying so much, Mommy? Because it’s when I feel closest to God.” Brother David Standl-Rast says that whatever lifts our heart is our prayer and our pathways to gratitude. Clearly flying is what lifts my son’s heart. His heart soared as high as that glider, and with as much beauty and grace.

Later in the day I sank down again. The magnitude of what had happened hit me, and I felt flooded with grief and pride, loneliness and joy. I texted Carrie: “It was such a monumental day and somehow I feel alone with it – like there should have been more ritual or ceremony around it. My son flew into the sky today in the pilot’s seat and we just go about our day ho-hum as if it’s a regular occurrence. It’s like he became a man today and nobody is acknowledging it – and yet sometimes when I look at him I still see him at three.”

When I came downstairs that night I found Everest sitting at the kitchen counter, still beaming. I tousled his hair, looked him in the eyes and said, “I’m so proud of you. You became a man today. I watched you fly into the sky.” He looked at me, took it in, and then said, “It was so fun! I hadn’t realized that the tow rope would snap back like a fifty-foot rubber band when I released it!” And on and on about the details of the flight. He also said, “You know what my first memory is – not from a video or photo but my own memory? It’s being at Santa Monica Airport and holding two toys planes – one with a red top and one with a blue one. How old was I then?” I told him that was before we moved to Colorado so probably about eighteen months old. We talked into the night, him in his pure joy and me in my multi-layered messy mother cake, the big recipe of emotions coming out as tears and smiles and laughter and hugs.

The subtitle of this blog is “Lessons in Letting Go,” and rarely does a day go by when I don’t practice this lesson. I practice letting go of control. I practice letting go of stages of life. I let go of intergenerational patterns that no longer serve me. I let go of the fear-walls that have kept love out. But on the day my son flew into the sky I let go of my firstborn child in a whole new way. This letting go began on the day he was born, as the midwife cut the umbilical cord and said to me, “You’ll never be as close to him as you’ve been in pregnancy.” The letting go continued as the love-bubble of the first few years of his life began to wrinkle and wilt as he found more of his separateness. It deepened even further as he stepped into pre-adolescence and, appropriately, no longer wanted to snuggle in quite the same way. Clients who are new mothers have said to me, “What’s the deal with motherhood? It feels like it’s all about letting go and grieving?”

There is that. But there is also the immense pride and joy of raising a child and watching him become a young man. Our work as parents isn’t to hold on tightly, for these beings come from us but do not belong to us, as Kahlil Gibran famously shares in this poem:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Our work, then, is to be the stable bows from which our children are sent forth. May we let go gracefully, which means allowing ourselves to grieve each ending, each separation, each transition. May we see them fully so that they soar into the beings they’re meant to be. May we work enough with our own fears so that we can step out of the way and let them fly.

35 comments to The Day My Son Flew Into The Sky

  • Jen

    What joy,this lovely story of initiation and honoring.Thank you for your bright light.You rock Everest! (well,that made me giggle a bit,but I’m saying it anyway!)

  • Anne

    Absolutely beautiful and what I need before we send our daughter to Kindergarten. Have you considered doing a parenting course surrounding these transitions?

  • Andrea Rae

    Unbelievably beautiful post! I cried. I can’t relate to the part about being a mom, but my heart was deeply touched to read about his joy….connecting with what makes him soar. In this case, literally and figuratively. ❤️💜💙💗

  • Marissa

    I can barely write this I am crying so much! My son – whose name also happens to be Everest 🙂 – is only two years old, and my heart feels like it is exploding from love and the pain of loving so much. I cannot even bare to think about the day that he will one day no longer want to take a bubble bath with me, or run into my arms for a big hug yelling, “Mama!!”. Thank you for the reminders of the importance of our work as parents at every stage. So, so wise, as usual.

    • It’s completely heartbreaking, and YET my Everest still waits to talk to me every night before bed and walks out to the garden if he sees me there. When the bond is solid it never breaks, only changes shape.

      • Marissa

        Thank you so much for this additional piece of wisdom. I feel like this kid is growing and changing SO fast, and why can’t time just SLOW down?!

  • John

    Such an incredible, inspiring, heavy duty post Sheryl. Such gifts come from you.
    John

  • Ann Mattanga

    https://youtu.be/zK2ZuescJGA

    Soundtrack for your beautiful reflection – I Believe I Can Fly 🌟

  • Sarah Koestner

    So beautiful as always Sheryl! My heart aches!

  • Kim

    I’ve always followed your blog and it never fails to be the perfect thing I need to hear at the time. My baby just turned one last week and the year brought so much unexpected fear and anxiety in my attempt to protect her from this world – so much that I sometimes doubt whether I made the right decision to bring her here which has been the most painful thing to confront. This post really helped to answer some of the questions I haven’t had the courage to speak out loud. Your work is so powerful and I thank you from the depths of my being for putting your experiences into words and sharing. It’s been a healing balm for me at times when little else has helped soothe the rawness of my sensitive soul. Sending light and love, Kim

    • I’m so glad it arrived at the right time, Kim. It’s one of the most difficult aspects of parenting – knowing that we can’t protect our children from pain.

  • Scoby

    Tears also filled my eyes reading this post. My heart reaches out to you and I’m so sorry you were alone during this momentous occasion and transition and not surrounded by tribe and ceremony but thank you so much for sharing this experience with us through your writing and allowing us to be with you in spirit ❤️

  • Tündi

    Oh Sheryl thank you for this raw and honest post. You have such incredible gift with words and I look forward to your posts every week. The pain, anguish and the heaviness of your heart is palpable through this post and made me cry, even though I don’t yet know what it’s like to have children.

    Most of my friends had their 1st babies over the last 2 years… it makes me feel very alone and disfunctional and confused. We have been talking about a baby for a while but circumstances are far from ideal for now.

    I’ve also experienced a bad relapse of anxiety lately and it makes me wonder how I could possibly birth a child into such circumstances, when sometimes it feels like my whole life comes crushing down and I want to run away from my relationship (or from myself, rather). This relapse came over me with such force that it makes me feel hopeless, as if nothing I’ve done and worked through really mattered, if despite all the effort and time invested, I still can’t be normal. Then my inner critic jumps in and makes me feel even worse. The hopelessness of having a normal life has made me have some terrifying thoughts.

    My extreme sensitivity also worries me.. I’m not sure I can handle more vulnerability. And what can be more risky than bringing a child, a part of me detached from myself, into the world? How will I not go mad from worry? I’m terrified of the prospect.

    Of course I try to reason.. there’s been a LOT going on this year, we experienced lots of loss and some terrifying events. At the same time, we are also searching for a place to settle down, which is possibly another trigger for me as it makes my choice of living away far from my parents & sisters official. This breaks my heart. I feel like I’m really losing grip and it’s very disheartening that despite the rational approach, I still can’t keep my anxiety at bay. I just don’t know what more I could do to better deal with my overwhelming feelings.

    Thank you for reminding me of the beautiful side of sensitivity every week <3

    Much love,

    Tündi

    • It’s normal for anxiety to relapse, and I don’t see it as a relapse so much as an invitation to enter the next layer of growth and healing.

  • Emma

    Thank you Sheryl for sharing this post and expressing the ambivalent, messy feelings inherent to motherhood. My son is only 2 years old and I can only imagine how much fear/pride/grief seeing your 13 yearl-old son flying in the sky must be like!!

    I am myself sitting in the middle of the transition between babyhood and toddlerhood – seeing my baby becoming his own little person and lacking a compass during this transition. I have painstakingly started to wean him very gently from breastfeeding (VERY slowly) and it’s bringing so much grief. And I may have to travel for 3 days in a few months and my heart breaks just thinking about the separation. But I guess this is the essence of motherhood – letting go little by little, again and again and again. I find comfort in reading the bond transforms but doesn’t go away.

    Lots of love.

    • This is indeed the essence of motherhood: letting go bit by bit. Nature prepares us in stages so that when it’s time to let them fly we can step out of the way and be a source of support instead of a hindrance, as can be the case when a parents’ own fears prevent a child from following their dreams. It’s not easy!

  • ThereThere

    Dear Sheryl,

    Again, exactly a post that I needed right now. My husband and I are about to start trying to conceive. One of the (or the) scariest decisions ever! I recently purchased your “Birthing a new mother” course, just to prepare myself in a gentle and loving way.
    And then my sister passed away unexpectedly 3 weeks ago… At the age of 32, she lost her battle with anorexia. We were very close, especially after losing our mother 3 years ago. She was my little sister and I spent my life so far trying to protect her. In the end, it turns out I couldn’t… And that hurts so much!
    I see so many resemblances in deciding to become a mother. So in a way, this loss may be a grand rehearsal for motherhood? I try to see it as that, a way of growing and learning. Through all the pain, guilt, grief.
    Thank you for this post. It helps me to find the courage to meet whatever arises in this time of transitions.

    Lots of love!

    • I’m so very sorry about your loss. Sending you love and courage as you meet your grief as it arises, and continue on to your next transition.

  • I relate to this so much as a mother of a 5-year old who is going into Kindergarten and as an artist. I know that God exists when I paint. When I read Everest’s quote about God and when he flies, I felt a kindred spirit speaking and smiled so big. I cried while reading, so happy for him and you both!

    -Britt

  • Rachel

    Beautiful, moving, helpful – thank you x

  • Leslie

    Gorgeous. And how brave to release your son to the skies and into the truth of his own life. True grit.

  • Angela

    Hi Sheryl,
    What a beautiful reading, Everest has grown up so fast. He is so humble just like his mum. I love when you said our children dont belong to us, they come through us. I couldnt agree with you more. I am the eldest like everest and it brings me to tears of joy how you celebrate your son being the first born.😊😀 My mother dosent care i was the first born, it really hurts me that she tells people she feels me being the only daughter and first born is nothing to celebrate. Me and brothers been celebrated the same. It dosent feel right to me. She dosent care about my thoughts and feelings. 😢😪😪💔

    • Thank you, Angela, and I’m so sad to hear about the pain from your mother’s inability to love you and see you. It’s a pain that can continue for a long time, but when you start to address the mother wound from the inside out, it will shift and it won’t hurt quite so much.

  • Angela

    It has been painful.. I havent heard from my in 5 months. No contact whatsoever. I have tried to make amends even though I know she should be making the first move and apologising to me instead. Nope she and my brother dont want a bar of it. Nothing to do with me. Primarily it was painful i cried every night. I let all my feelings out with my husband, which was 1 month ago. Since that night, i feel better and it did shift. 2 weeks ago we decided to buy our very own little adorable kitten a ragdoll. That was the best thing i have ever done., Cats are so misunderstood, having been a dog person, i now know and realise iam also a cat person. I love all animals. My husband was the same. We have been in such a good mood because of our jewel our little precious boy, i named him Maximus… maxi.. he just looks like a max., i believe maxi was meant to come into my life and give me unconditional love to me and my husband. Our little bundle of joy.🤗🤗😊😊💕❤️

  • Lisa Querido

    Yes it all of this Sheryl. This message is so important both for us as mothers and also as we heal our own inner child – who may not have been quite allowed to fly.

  • Taylor

    So what’s next? Do you think he will be a pilot?