She just let him be a kid.

That’s what good mothers do, especially those with little boys who need to run and get dirty and build things.

He needed to ride his bike or his skateboard, needed to build with his dad in their garage and just needed to be a boy.

So she let him.

We buckle them into seat belts and strap on helmets, wrap sharp coffee table corners in bubble wrap and use safety gates to prevent little guys from being hurt on too-steep staircases. We puree homemade baby food, vigilantly prevent choking hazards and sneak into the silent darkness of the nursery at night to watch them simply breathe. We hold little hands as we carefully cross the street, practice calling 911 and use safety scissors. Training wheels on, swim floaties inflated and ready to go.

That’s what the good mothers do, after all. We do everything in our power to keep them safe.

She just let him be a kid.

As I sat in my family room that night, the news began to spread through our small town the way modern-day news travels… over Facebook. A comment about a horrible accident, a young boy injured, speculation about who the young boy was, exchanges between young and old trying to figure it all out and finally, the sad news that he did not survive the accident.

And then I saw the message that made my heart sink.

I knew who this boy was, knew his mother. We worked together at the elementary school and she is wonderful. She always talked about her boys.

Now one was gone.

She just did what others mothers do every day — she just let him be a kid.

Just like Anna had done, nearly eight months earlier. A 12-year-old boy, a warm day, a rainstorm. Friends giggling and knocking at the door, eager to get soaked and laugh and just be kids. To tromp in the mud and forget homework and chores for just a bit. Anna nodded to her son and daughter to say they could join their friends and play in the rain. She recalls watching those five soaked, happy kids — her son Jack still in his school uniform, doing a full spin with a huge smile on his face.

Jack was swept away by the raging water in the usually timid creek.

Of course she let him play in the rain. He was a kid.

How do we do this every day, when there is no guarantee? No promise of a future, or of grandchildren on our laps, no cure for cancer, no special bubble wrap that can protect our children? We let them go each day, like small pieces of our hearts with goals and ambitions and a will all their own.

We pray and we wish and we cross our fingers that they will be OK. Throw a bit of faith or fairy dust into the wind as we shout, “Have a nice day!”

How do we do this?

I have wondered this many times over since that night… and since the warm June evening when we all stood and cheered as his mother walked down the aisle amongst the 8th graders to accept her son’s diploma… and since the late August afternoon on what would have been his 14th birthday, as I hugged his mom in the memorial garden the volunteers have created for her.

How do we do this?

I have become a bit more tolerant of the eye rolls, a bit more relaxed about the have-to-do things. A few more minutes to stay up, an extra hour to browse at the mall, another cookie, maybe a pat on the head as I walk by.

Because life reminded me that we truly don’t have unlimited time with our kids.

So I just continue to do what the good mothers do.

I just let them be kids.

Footnote: Anna Whiston-Donaldson wrote a memoir about her journey through grief after the loss of her son Jack. The book is entitled Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love and was released on September 9, 2014.

This piece originally ran on Huffington Post