Since becoming a parent, I find myself constantly holding in half of a breath. Sometimes it’s out of frustration, and sometimes it’s from the perception of imminent danger, like when my children are running full tilt down the concrete sidewalk full of uneven cracks just tall enough to trip up exuberant little feet. Even at home when I hear a crash, I take in a shallow breath and count to three while I scrunch up one eye and wait to see if I hear any yells, screams, or cries for help, or whether I can attribute it to just run-of-the-mill chaos.
Two weeks ago, after picking her up from preschool, my daughter and I had a sunshine-filled hour all to ourselves with her baby brother fast asleep in his carseat and her older brother still at basketball camp until 3 o’clock. On a whim we went to a park so she could test-fly a foam glider that she had just received thanks to a sweet gift bag score from a fellow classmate’s birthday celebration. There was another little boy running around the playground when we got there who looked to be about her age. My daughter tends to play independently at parks if we are not there with people she already knows, but the bright red wings of the glider took the reins and she and the boy became fast friends and co-pilots as they took turns throwing it into the air, squealing with delight as it twisted its way back to the earth.
Just as I was settling into the joy of the afternoon, I heard a smack on pavement followed by a loud wail. I tightened my jaw and looked over with one eye to see my daughter kneeling next to her new friend, patting him on the back while his mamma quickly pulled a band-aid out of her bag. I exhaled gratefully that there were no broken teeth, which is my greatest fear when pavement is involved, and after a quick cuddle it was back to business as usual. As my daughter ran off with her freshly bandaged friend, I opened my mouth to suggest that they run on the grassy section of the park from now on, but then closed it when I saw them return to the top of the sidewalk preparing another launch. They knew very well that the lawn could be used as an alternate runway, as they had been intermittently occupying it throughout the hour. However, they chose not to be deterred by a scraped knee and continued on the concrete path as it yielded the most zigs and zags for their mission. 3…2…1…blast off!
I sat there on that bench contemplating the process of keeping my kids safe while giving them the freedom to make their own choices. How do I empower them to be strong and yet stay tender? Teach them to be competitive while remaining steadfastly compassionate? How do they become independent, but not afraid to accept help and how do they come to understand and accept risk while enduring as little pain as possible? Protected yet vulnerable, hard yet tender, independent yet dependent. It’s a constant state of internal reconciliation. There is so much outside of our control and yet right at our fingertips.
As we buckled ourselves back into the car, my little girl asked if we could have her fourth birthday party at that same park in hopes that her new friend would happen to be playing on that day too and could join us. I felt proud that she went outside of her comfort zone and asked someone she didn’t know to play with her. From where I sat, I overheard discussions about flight patterns, cats, and the deliciousness of chocolate croissants. In one short hour, they opened themselves up and learned things from one another and even withstood injury. At the end of it all, they walked (limped) away with smiles on their faces and a new experience under their belts, which is all I could ever ask for.
Marissa B. Niranjan may keep one eye closed for a split second when she feels like her heart just can’t take it, but as a mamma of three, even a closed eye is an open one if that makes any sense. She also has promised herself to start carrying band-aids in her purse (read canvas tote bag, because she hasn’t carried an actual purse since having kids) but keeps forgetting to put them in there.