Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.
One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.
Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.
It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.
One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.