A mom knows real freedom comes with consequences

"Here it is Passover, and I'm still fighting for my freedom!"

A friend uttered those words in disgust more than 20 Passovers ago. He had defied his father's request to get a haircut, to look "presentable" in time for the seders.

And so, his father took away the car keys, a gesture that not only denied him his beloved freedom of the open road, but reminded this struggling teenager that he was not yet master of his own life.

Real freedom is a ponderous responsibility. What did the Children of Israel do in the nascent days of their freedom? They berated Moses, "Why did you take us out of Egypt where we were fed, only to let us starve in the desert?"

Those ex-slaves railed against newfound freedom, pining instead for the "comforts" of slavery. And indeed it took 40 years for them to walk what was a relatively short distance — not because they were poor navigators, but because the Divine knew that two generations had to pass to erase a slave mentality and create a tribe willing to take on the rigors of real freedom.

Real freedom comes with consequences.

When my son was 7, he began chafing under the yoke of his piano practice after school vacation arrived.

"It's vacation. I want to be free for a little bit," he told me. I bit back the admonishments that came to mind, resolving to let nature take its course. When he sat down to play before his next piano lesson, his fingers stumbled through a song that two weeks before he had played with skill and pride.

"I don't understand it," he said, full of impatience. "I know this song." We both learned something about freedom that night. He learned that being free from a task has its price. And I learned that giving him the freedom to stumble might, just might, help him walk more sturdily the next time.

It is hard for us to let our children go, to free them from the voice of our experience. Yet just as often, adult children have difficult times freeing themselves from their parents' voices.

A friend recently told me that as much as she loves tennis, every time she misses a shot, her father's voice echoes in her mind: "No. No. Bad hit. No, do it like this. No. No. No." Today she struggles to continue playing a game she has come to love as an adult because she is still trapped by the ghost of a decades-old voice telling her she doesn't play well.

Liberating ourselves from those old inner voices takes courage. For my friend, it means realizing that missing a shot means missing a shot and nothing more. It means that she can see herself with her own eyes, not her father's.

For me, it means letting my daughter ice skate.

Ice-skating has always terrified me. In second grade, a classmate invited me to her ice skating party. When my mother dropped me off at the ice rink, she cautioned me to put my hands in my lap if I fell so no one would run over my fingers with their skate blades. It seems that happened to someone in my grandfather's village in Russia.

I was so busy thinking about severed fingers that I never made it around the rink.

I live in Michigan where ice is a way of life. My daughter, who was 4 at the time, had been pestering me for some time to take her to the ice rink so that she could learn to skate. I finally relented.

The ice scared me, but I didn't want it to scare my daughter. Lacing up the rented skates on her tiny feet, I thought of the apocryphal peasant who went through life minus a digit.

I fought against delivering any parting words of caution. I kept my lips sealed save for giving her a kiss before she went onto the ice. Resolute, determined, she threaded her way among the other skaters, circling clockwise again and again, never falling, tethered as if by some invisible second hand.

When she came back 40 minutes later I don't know who was more excited: her, for having skated, or me for keeping the memory of the peasant at bay and thereby giving her free rein on the ice.

I suppose some would say that the true test would be for me to lace skates onto my feet and give it a whirl. But for now, I am content enough to have broken the chain of concern that kept a young girl from gliding so many years ago.

At other times what we perceive to be heavy chains are actually golden bonds that grace our lives. I keep the following poem written by my mother, Dorothea Bourke. It's tacked to the wall beside my desk to remind me how fleeting the priceless bonds of motherhood really are: