Protect them. But not too much.

I took my son to work today, because my caregiver had to meet with her own son’s teachers all day. When I first came off maternity leave and back to work, I wasn’t at ALL satisfied with the nanny we had initially found (always trust your gut mamas). Long story short, she was out and Momma was in: I took baby Jude to work with me every day, all day for 6 weeks until I found someone I felt COMPLETELY at ease with. It was back breakingly exhausting, but worth it: Miss Sara is a gem. A gem who had to be out all day. So Jude, a stash of toys (among which we now count a Toy Story pack of wipes btw. Yes. As a TOY.), his ginormous baby bag and his Pack n Play all got bundled into the car and away we went to Mommy’s job.

With one eye on my in-tray, one eye on the clock and the deadlines whizzing by, one eye on Jude’s schedule which I was trying to vaguely respect, and one eye on Jude himself, I was pretty stretched. My co-workers decided THOSE must be the reasons I didn’t react every time my child fell, tripped or smashed into some large inanimate object (The lesson HUGE FURNITURE ALWAYS WINS hasn’t quiiiite sunken in for him yet). But really, no that’s not why I don’t react at all. If I were sitting in a plush lounger sipping pink lemonade on a shady, breezy day, I still wouldn’t have reacted. Not externally anyways. Not anymore. (Excuse me while I revisit that soft lounge vision for a minute)

Please note: not any MORE.

When Jude was 4.5 months old, I left him sleeping on a bed in the company of someone well trusted to watch him. Suddenly I saw another friend rushing towards me with my child bundled up in their arms, her eyes bulging in panic and my child arched in a wordless scream. For some reason, the person had looked away for a minute, sure Jude was still sleeping, and in that minute he had sleepily and speedily crawled to the edge of the bed. Then off it. To this day, I cannot express how my heart stopped; how I grabbed him, without saying a word to anyone, not sure I ever would again; how I stared at his stiff body, still bug eyed for air; how my mind ran through my obsessive WebMD readings for what this could mean, what the repercussions could possibly look like, what to do next. I felt faint. No one saw the actual fall so I didn’t know if he landed on his head or his neck, or his back…

He finally got his air in and bellowed in a way I’ve never heard before or since and I KNEW he was dying. Just knew it. I grabbed my son, left my shoes and tore out of the house to my paediatrician, weeping as loudly as Jude the whole way. I screeched up outside the paediatrician and grabbed my child, still looking for any signs of brain damage or obvious injury. The minute I snatched him up out the carseat, he stopped crying and touched my face.  Nuzzled against my chest looking for a snack. By the time I made it inside, he was…fine. Our doctor examined him, and declared him perfectly okay. Not even a coco visible. He followed her fingers, grabbed after the light, smiled, laughed and even crawled around a bit. Fine.

After briefly admonishing me about making sure anyone I left him with in future was more careful, she reassured me with this: Listen, God knew what He was doing when He made babies. They’re a lot tougher than we ever believe. What you going to do when he’s learning to walk? Live in an empty house? No. Protect them enough to satisfy YOUR standards, and then let them do what they need to in order to learn.

Protect them, and then let them do what they need to in order to learn. That long story brings us back to why I calmly watched my son bump and tumble his way through my office while my office mates hovered with cushions and pillows and anxious hands. We all know the story about over-helping and how it killed the butterfly, right? A man watched a butterfly wrestling its way out of its cocoon and felt so sorry for its struggle, that to help it he slit the cocoon open for it. The butterfly, beautiful and fully grown, and in all other ways ready for flight, tumbled to the ground and died. Because that cocoon-struggle is how butterflies strengthen their wings for flight. With every good intention in heart, that man ‘helped’ the butterfly so much he rendered the butterfly helpless. I remind myself of that all the time.

My precious baby is a baby now, but one day he will become a man. Being the mom I am, I have my doubts that I’ll ever magically ‘recognize’ when that crossover happens. I suspect I’ll be THAT mom- the one who knows that even when he’s 50, Jude will be my baby. So instead, I’m choosing to hover over him and prayerfully asking for guidance to pull back, to let him fall, to let him learn; to let him gradually inhabit his skin more comfortably, then define his world more confidently, and understand his purpose with more conviction than if I were the one to try and digest it then spoon-feed it all to him. It’s hard. My instinct is to huddle him to my chest and defy the world to try and harm him. Instead I have diligently trained myself to pause, watch him figure out if the fall is worth a hug or if exploring is more fun, and then react accordingly. Now it takes a major fall to evoke a response and it can usually be kissed away in a matter of 3 seconds. If the fall happened in the midst of a particularly juicy escapade, it almost adds to his delight. I can already see in my 10 month old child the 7 year old he will be explaining that yes he cut his knee but I should have SEEN him climb that tree. I can see him as an 18 year old telling me that yes, Italy is a far way to go to school, but the degree will make it worth it. I can see him as a husband, a father…the possibilities are endless because I taught him- or stood out of his way enough for him to learn that- that yes, the possibilities really ARE endless.

It’s not about me and whether or not I panic. It’s about him, and allowing him the space to grow, explore, discover and to become entirely himself. Always I’ll be monitoring his growth and keeping a careful eye on him and everything about him. Always I’ll be praying over him.

In the meantime, I hide the poisons, the swallowables, the pointy objects and I shepherd him away from sharp edges and dangerously high surfaces. In the meantime, I hide my worry when he falls- especially when he’s untroubled- and cheerfully say “Hey now, buddy… had ourselves a little adventure?” And in the meantime I pray that there’s no blood. Because I think that would be my deal breaker.


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