I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance, for me, to let kids be kids; to openly explore their environment and to – more or less – take a back seat approach when it’s appropriate. But battling this outlook is an underlying fear I think we all face as mothers; an innate versus society-induced drive to coddle, to protect, and to give our children every ounce of our attention.
Before becoming a mother, I lived without any inhibitions (I’ve probably made my own mother’s head spin all the way around once or twice). I’ve been sky diving twice, I attended big outrageous parties in the middle of the desert that were not – shall we say – legal, I visited India (just Janet and I) and ended up – after many stops at checkpoints that contained several men with not one but two machine guns slung over each shoulder – in Pakistan at a time it was not – shall we say – safe to be there. And those are just the things I’m willing to admit here publicly.
And so, as a mother, I try to hold on to the notion that it’s okay to make mistakes and okay to explore and – more or less – trust the world; And that doing so will build a stronger human being based on the notion that I identify greatly with all I have done in my life and believe deeply that it has shaped what I trust to be a healthy perspective on life and a humble confidence in myself and my fellow man.
I don’t believe in parenting from behind a screen door of mesh made of fear. And yet, as I reflect on things that have happened over just the last year or so, I wonder if I’m really confident enough to practice what I preach because, well, I struggle with my own fears too.
My grandma died just a day or two after I had my spinal fusion. I was in the hospital when I learned that my dad had found her, still somewhat conscious, on the floor in her home office. She was 96 years old and despite her age, it came as a shock to all of us. She showed no signs of slowing down, refused all help, and lived alone completely independently.
When I came home after two weeks in the hospital, I experienced horrible opiate withdrawals. I had been on IV dilaudid for the full time I was in the hospital. If you google dilaudid, you’ll read urban dictionary’s definition: medical heroin. And it’s no joke; it’s something like one chemical compound off of heroin. It didn’t live up to the hype, but I think I was in so much pain that it did nothing more than knock me out and allow me to rest for an hour or two until I woke up in dire pain and repeated the process all over again. By the time I was home, I felt nauseous, couldn’t eat, and was still in horrible pain. Two months after coming home, I did something awful to my neck; so awful that I can say I was in more pain than I ever had been. Meaning it topped two natural births to large babies as well as the pain I experienced immediately post operatively. I laid helpless in bed for about two weeks and got a glimpse of what it would be like to be chronically disabled. A few weeks after healing from that, I got a stomach virus that made me so dehydrated that I passed out – completely – at home. An ambulance took me to the hospital, where I spent another few days loading up on IV fluids.
Prior to moving – as many of you already know – we watched helplessly as Sarah (our dog) got hit by a car. The vision still runs over and over again in my mind. And, more than anything, pointed to the fact that life can change in an instant right before your eyes. Following her death, the way we started talking to one another changed; “Have a fun trip” turned into “Please make sure you drive safely and that the kids are strapped in well”.
Just after moving to our new home, Willy came upon a scene where a pedestrian had been hit just a mile from our home. She flew at least 60 feet. The look on the faces of the two bikers that witnessed it is imprinted in Willy’s memory; I can almost see it myself, and I wasn’t even there.
While in Hawaii last year we got word that Willy’s grandma was in the hospital. Again, it was – more or less – unexpected. She was discharged and placed on hospice care with a poor prognosis. Thankfully, she’s still with us and fighting the good fight.
I came across the loss of the sweetest red-headed boy on Instagram and haven’t been able to shake him, or his family, from my mind. Ryan was three when he chased a Frisbee into the street and was hit by a truck. It was so painful to read about, I couldn’t even muster up a few words of condolences to his family. It hits home, as I’m sure it does for all of us.
And, of course, my recent car accident on the freeway… where all three cars involved were a total loss. I can still see that pickup truck coming straight at me. I wasn’t my fault, though at times I think it would be easier to deal with if it had been; It’s easier to say things like “I’ll never travel that close to the car in front of me again” or “I won’t ever check my phone while driving again” because statements like those insinuate some degree of control. Instead, all I can say is “I hope a truck on the freeway doesn’t fly into me out of nowhere again” and, well, that’s not very comforting — to know that I, or none of us for that matter, have control to stop things that are out of our control is scary.
The sum of all these scenarios points to one brutal conclusion: life is fragile, pain is real, and the paths we all walk are never straight. And these aren’t conclusions you want to hear or face or – dare I say – accept as a mother. We want life to be hardy and safe and dependable so we can let our children off of our proverbial leashes and enable them to make mistakes and learn and grow.
I’m reminded of a quote I recently read over on The Ma Books: “Only later did I come to understand that to be a mother is to be an illusion. No matter how vigilant, in the end a mother can’t protect her child – not from pain, or horror, or the nightmare of violence, from sealed trains moving rapidly in the wrong direction, the depravity of strangers, trapdoors, abysses, fires, cars in the rain, from chance” (Nicole Krauss, Great House). That quote brings tears to my eyes, every time.
I really do believe in letting my kids be kids; I believe in allowing them to make mistakes. I believe in allowing my kids to fall and struggle and learn and grow. My hope is that I can raise them to be independent and confident. But there are cracks in concrete just like there are holes in fences and sometimes little bits of life happenings become weights, each of them stacked upon the other, weighing me down and trying to force me into surrendering to fear.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t have a conclusion that suggests it’s all okay; I only have the truth that it’s not always okay and that things can change at the drop of a hat. I guess the take home message is that you can’t plan your life around unexpected tragedies nor can you plan your life around the idea that everything will be okay, always. So I guess you can dumb it down even further and simply say you cannot plan life; You can merely enjoy the days, the moments, and surround ourselves with those we love with the harsh reality that none of us will be here forever.
Photos by Tish Carlson
Willy: Spent Father’s Day alone with the boys because I had to work. Also bought himself a new gun, so, well, retail therapy.
Hoop: Killed a moth, by accident. Then sadly said, “I’m gonna put him here on the rock so he can grow back”.