I found myself vaguebooking after a difficult incident this evening and figured that type of behavior in me is indicative of a very real need to write. As a mother, I do a pretty awkward dance with protecting my children's childhood and giving them an appropriate level of street smarts. Growing up in the 80's with a mom who had legitimate fears for her children, I was possibly overly made aware of the dangers of being a vulnerable child in the big, bad world. The 80's seemed to be a time for well-publicized, freak kidnapping stories that terrified mothers nationwide, and for good reason. This is where the "stranger danger" campaign came from as well as the ransacking of your children's Halloween candy for drugs and needles.
For me, I tend to lean too far the other way, possibly as an overcompensation, and more than likely, because I'm not much of a worrier. I'm really not. I realized recently that I live my life like I expect things to go well. That is what led me to travel all over the world by the time I was 19, largely unattended by "adults" with little to no fear for my safety. Let me tell you - it was awesome. I'm not reckless with what I would have constituted as "moral risks". I was a virgin when I got married (I know!); I've never done drugs or even been drunk. But hop on a train to a foreign company with no place to stay for the night? Sure!
So, I don't spend my days following my children around with band-aids and tissues. I try to evaluate the worst possible outcome of the choices I witness them making, recognize that their likelihood is slim and hope for the best. So far, that's worked for me. Tim is the more reasonable one, sending them to the doctor, not allowing them to climb all over everything, not wanting them to eat snow, etc. So here's my problem: apparently, my oldest has no concept that she is in danger when she has given me the slip in public. She has no idea the sheer terror that courses through my veins when I can't for the life of me find her. Three times this has happened this summer and tonight took the cake.
We were in the 5 story public library when she asked to go ahead of Penny and I down the concrete stairs. I said sure, but you must stay inside the building. She ran down the stairs while Penny carefully took the 3 stories one step at a time. When we got to the bottom, Macy wasn't "hiding" under the stairs like she usually is. The librarian at the bottom hadn't seen her. The story in between the children's floor and the bottom floor is administrative, so I knew she wasn't there. I scoured the bottom floor carrying a very heavy library bag, my purse and bumping into Penny at every turn. We were on our way down the block to the movies so I was also on a time crunch.
I went to the lobby area to set down the bag and glance outside on the off chance she'd stepped just outside the door. Nothing. Suddenly, I see two men of color and a young boy gesturing me outside. I had seen them when Penny and I were on the stairs. I run out and they ask me, are you looking for your daughter? Yes, I exhale and try to inhale. Purple dress? Yes, she just went down the street and got into a car. Oh shit. Meanwhile, Penny is trapped in that damn circular door, gotta run back and free her while she's screaming. I pick her up and race down the street where I know my car is parked. And what do I see? Macy sitting in her booster seat reading. I thank the men, put Penny in her carseat and just shake. And shake. And shake. With rage. With relief. With terror. With all the curse words I'm not saying but must be screaming from my pores. What the hell were you thinking? I actually say. I pull back up to the 5 min parking at the library to run in and grab the giant pile of books I had discarded. I call Tim frantically. He doesn't pick up the phone. I stop and start angry sentences all the way home at my ignorant child. No, we're not going to the movies. Yes, this isn't fair to your sister who did nothing wrong. No, I was very clear you were not to leave the building. Yes, this is serious and you will be spending the evening in your room.
I came home, woke up poor sick Tim from his nap and vented all my fears and anger at the situation while he nodded in his poor, sick stupor. He agrees 100%. He's in there to talk to her through his strep throat, swollen vocal chords. I'm trying to calm down. No, I can't see her face until I calm down. Yes, I need to eat so badly. Fattening comfort food ensues. TV turns on as Penny is suddenly very interested in interacting with me. My muscles slowly start to uncurl. And here I am.
Here's the thing: risk-taking is a critical life skill. I feel really strongly that children need to not be afraid of everything, that the best experiences in life involve an element of risk (falling in love, finding personal success, choosing to be vulnerable, starting over...) And yet, my kid has no idea why her lack of listening in these situations puts her at risk. So now my child has shown me that she must be told that while the world is a beautiful place full of incredible people, it also has a lot of really terrible realities of which she knows nothing. Things like kidnapping. That there are people in the world who take pleasure in hurting others, particularly the most vulnerable, innocent people. I hate this. I feel like the loss of innocence is a bad thing. I know when it's torn from someone it is a bad thing. I know that's not what this is. This isn't trauma; it's education. But it feels bad, like I'm losing something and that it's hurting her. Perhaps I am losing something - I'm losing my "little" girl.
I mentioned in my blog post about "clumsy advocacy" that I recently joined a #blacklivesmatter moms group. And one of the things we're looking to explore as a group is how to expose our children to the racial realities in this country. How do we begin to explain systemic racism, white privilege and the school to prison pipeline? There's a mama bear in me that wants so desperately to keep my little kids little. And yet, how do I raise ethically-minded children unless I mold their developing minds toward these realities? Children understand certain things (like injustice) way more deeply and easily than many adults, so it's a wonderful time to plant moral seeds. I guess as Macy's growing up, I have to incrementally help her grow up, into these difficult realities, whether I want to or not. Because she needs to be aware for her own safety and hopefully, in order to advocate on behalf of others. Sometimes parenting is a punch in the gut.