I have a vivid memory of sitting on my mom’s sage green sofa the morning after I brought home my firstborn baby girl, Zoelie. She was lying asleep, getting some sunlight on her cheeks through the window. The first visitors to come see her were about to walk through the front door, and as I stared at my fragile, precious newborn, I was suddenly frozen in a whirlwind of panic.
Every awful (and maybe irrational) thing that could happen in this world suddenly flashed before my eyes. A tornado could destroy everything and we would be homeless. She could get sick and die from people touching her. My sister (who has this way of rocking a baby not unlike an amusement park ride) would drop her. A terrorist attack could take her forever from me.
Honestly? In that moment, I wanted nothing more than to build a secret underground bomb shelter and never come out again. We’d live quietly, healthily, and happily in our secret little haven and I would protect her from everything and everyone bad in this world.
As time has moved forward, the panic has lessened but it hasn’t quite gone away. I remember when I started school and I had to send her at four months old to her first sitter. I was terrified to leave her. Although I was doing my best by bettering our financial future, I felt like I was letting her down by not spending those precious hours each day with her.
When she was two, I had parked my car in front of our apartment building. I opened the car door to take her out of her car seat and realized we had driven thirty minutes and I had forgotten to buckle her in. I never had felt so sick to my stomach.
I remember the time she was in Sunday school and she threw up her pancakes in class. Another little girl walked up and told her she was gross. Or the boy on her soccer team last spring who told her she looked weird. I could see in her pretty hazel eyes the devastation those words caused.
Or how about when she was three and she was attacked by a friend’s dog. I saw my precious baby girl’s entire head in the dog’s mouth… she was covered in blood. For a split second, I thought I was going to lose her. And after that initial wave of panic disappeared, I still wasn’t sure she was going to be okay.
But guess what? Every single time, she HAS been okay. And even though she is still just a tiny person, she has grown significantly from those negative experiences and also from watching how her dad and I handle them. He is much calmer, much more rational than I. I have to fight hard with myself to bury my mama bear meltdowns until I can let them out somewhere privately. If it wasn’t for him, I would be more tempted to act upon the knee-jerk reaction to lock my daughters up and make sure nothing and no one ever hurts them. I am slowly accepting that if I did, I would be robbing my daughters of so many valuable life lessons.
This has definitely been my toughest lesson as a mom. As hard as I try to do everything right, to protect them from sickness, from chemicals, from mean words, from injury… things don’t always go according to plan. It’s really easy to get so wrapped up in being safe, in being natural, about the best car seat or abandoning electronic toys. I have to remind myself that sometimes just relaxing and living each day to the fullest is what our kids really need. They thrive when we do things because they feel right for our family, not because I spent countless hours researching every last detail of the choices we make.
Overall, I guess I’m learning what love is. Or rather, I am learning how to show love to my kids differently. Love doesn’t always mean protecting and sheltering them from everything (even though I might want to). The best thing I can do for them is to be there when they fall, to kiss the boo-boos and assure them that even when the other kids say not-so-nice things, they are still so beautiful. I’m loosening up, and letting them experience adventure. I’m learning to love on standby, to be ready to pick up the pieces when things don’t go as planned. Sometimes love means letting them explore the world around them even when for this little mama bear- it’s a little scary.