I thought I knew pain and heartache. I was orphaned young, miscarried two babies, spent 9 years in infertility hell, was physically attacked and saw my share of various tragedies. As I looked at my 20 month old daughter sleeping peacefully in my arms last night with the newscaster’s voice in my head describing the devastating death of small children in Oklahoma, I knew I have barely scratched the depth of despair one can feel in this world. I gently stroked her cheek and wished I could freeze the moment for forever.
We have lost so many children in the past year. Some to the actions of mad people like Sandy Hook, Boston and the tragedy which unfolded in Kansas while I was visiting this month. Then there are the ones lost to acts of nature like Oklahoma. All I see are these grieving moms and dads going home to find empty rooms, unslept in beds, motionless toys and silence. The silence must be the worst.
I have heard people say having a child is like watching your heart walk around outside your body. I think it is true. My daughter is my heart and soul and my light. I want to wrap her up on my body and put a turtle shell over us. This way I will know if something happens to her I did everything I could to save her because I was there until the bitter end. It is unrealistic. It is irrational. It is how I imagine most moms feel today.
The most appalling realization a mother can have is there are circumstances out of her control. Unless I bubble wrap my daughter up, never leave the house and most likely find myself the subject of a social services investigation about my anti-social behavior, I can’t prevent the bulk of most injuries or tragedies. Would we have fun at home alone? Duh! Who doesn’t like to pop bubble wrap? However, I’m sure eventually even the thrill of popping bubble wrap, reading, TV, shadow puppets and craft projects will wan. As much as I would love for me to be able to protect her from all harm, would it truly be in her best interest?
One of the greatest parts of motherhood is seeing our children experience life. Their joy of flying through the air in a swing at the park. The giggle of chasing friends in the yard. The sense of accomplishment on completing a move at gymnastics. I marvel at her new discovers. She loves exploring the world around her except the world of handstands at gymnastics which she still despises. I can protect her from falling off the playground gym equipment but she will miss the opportunity to climb, swing, and slide. I can protect her from bad people in public but she would miss out on gymnastics, friendships and music class. How can I take all that way from her?
Now, I’m not one to give up hope or live in fear. I decided to sit down and make a list of things I can do.
1. I can smile. The first night I left the hospital with her I was sitting in a hotel room with her screaming for hours and we were both crying. I made a crucial decision. Every time she would look at me I would smile. Every time. I wanted the main thing she saw as an infant was a happy friendly face. There were times I smiled through tears or pain but I smiled. Now, she is older I do adjust my expression for the situation such as understanding face and the “you better not” face but most of the time during the day she will look up from her playing to find me. I will smile at her. She smiles back and go on with her playing. It amazes me how often she still does it daily. It gives me the chance throughout the day to see her gorgeous smiling face. I want that image etched in my brain for life.
2. I can teach. It starts with teaching the dangers of the stove, baby proofing walls sockets and evolves into no crossing the street without holding my hand. Then it gets more complicated. It is crucial they learn to be aware of their surroundings, how to react to strangers, learn our phone number, etc. There is an enormous amount we can teach them to protect themselves. I am going to start looking for resources to improve my knowledge as her world begins to expand.
3. I can give her a happy place. Some people are religious and some people aren’t. Both are fine. I happen to be one who enjoys a close relationship with God. It has helped me get through life during many a hard times. I know people can find the same comfort with nature or yoga or running. I don’t think the method you choose is right or wrong. I think the important aspect is to teach your child there is a place to go for comfort in the hard times. For them to have a happy place is something I think many of us overlook. Sure we want them to come to us but what if we aren’t there? How can they deal with tragedy, conflict, raw emotions if they aren’t given the tools or even shown where the tool shed is located.
4. I can give her my attention. Currently she wants me to pretend to talk on her fake phone all the time. She doesn’t want to talk on it. She wants to watch me talk on it over and over and over again. It was cute the first few days. Now, I want to take the phone outside and drive over it while screaming “Towanda!” (Fried Green Tomatoes reference) I sigh a little but every time I take that bloody phone and have a silly conversation. Children don’t always remember how their room looked, what they wore or what they ate: all things moms have to spend tons of time doing. But they do remember how things felt emotionally. She is going to have negative emotions. It is a simple fact of life. I can do my best not to add to the negative pile, to instill confidence and grant her the knowledge she has worth. Her words have worth to me. Her actions have worth to me. She is worthy of my attention.
5. I can be a positive force in my community. Why does the death of someone else’s child cut me so deep? Because we are a part of something bigger. Why do so many people reach out to help? Because they know we all have a responsibility to our neighbor to help. If I was in distress, I would want someone to help me. I would be selfish if I didn’t return the favor. It may not be popular in this dog eat dog independent world we have developed but I can’t help thinking a village working together would be able to save more lives. If we recognized the signs of distress in an acquaintance and reached out to comfort. If we spent time with an elderly neighbor and noticed when there was a problem like fraud or illness. I read the story of a teacher in the tornado laying across three kids to protect them. Those weren’t her kids but they were someone’s kids and they are fine now. Last I heard she might not make it. She was a positive force for her village. It is uncomfortable nowadays to reach out to strangers. I’m going to do it anyway. Who knows if I will stop a future tragedy with my kindness today.
Love, faith and compassion are the only real tools I have in my mommy tool belt. I will use them to continue to find ways I can protect my daughter while not limiting her potential opportunities.
Smile at your loved ones today. Spend some time in your happy place. Give your attention to your family. Start looking at your world through the eyes of a participant. Your village needs you. Our children need you.