Finding risk

Photographic proof of the fall.

On the day my niece was born, I was responsible for babysitting my then two year old nephew while his parents were in the hospital. He and I had a great day playing together until the moment that he tripped in his living room, bumped his face on some furniture and got a little scrape on his nose. I was only steps away from him but it happened quickly and I couldn’t catch him from falling. Though the tears that followed the bump were fleeting (and the rest of the day continued to be fun), the memory of the bump will live on forever, thanks to the nice scab easily noticeable in every photo of him meeting his sister later that afternoon (not to mention the relentless teasing from my family).

I asserted then, and continue to assert now, that kids get hurt. They get scrapes and bumps as they explore the world around them. It’s a natural part of childhood. However, no amount of defending myself from the “scrape heard round the world” prepared me for this morning, my first Monday as a stay at home mom, when my 7 month old daughter fell and, yes, bumped her nose and got a little scrape. Call it karma, call it a coincidence, call it what you will… I call it a quick way to stir up a mother’s guilt. Though I was only a couple steps away, she fell fast and missed hitting her head by only a few inches. Being a stay at home mom is off to a whopping success…

I do everything I can to protect my kids and shelter them from harm, sometimes to an anxiety-ridden fault. But the truth is, they have to fall. Because if they don’t fall, they can’t pick themselves back up and see that they’re okay. They can’t experience the pride in trying again and succeeding. They can’t feel the comfort of my hug and reassurance afterward.

Just as my kids have to go through this natural part of childhood, I have to go through the parallel part of motherhood. I have to know when to let them take a risk. When to let them push outside their (and my) comfort zone. When to rush to their aid and when to hang back to see how they’ll respond. It’s not just about letting my kids fall down and pick themselves back up; it’s also about calculating the risk and adding a buffer zone for safe exploration, even when minor risk is involved. It’s not easy, and honestly, I’m not always very good at it, but I understand the value of it, too.

Proof of today’s bump.

Luckily, so far most of my kids’ scrapes and bumps have been minor and easily treated with ice, a bandaid and a big hug. For the record, the baby was fine for the rest of today. And I managed to help my oldest with a Lego project and make a pretty nice dinner. But, if ever I need a reminder of the calculated risks kids need to have, I captured a picture as evidence of today’s bump, though something tells me I won’t forget about it anytime soon.

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Finding my inner mama bear

My inner mama bear came out at the new park playground near my house last weekend. With claws out and teeth snarled, I was a sight to be seen. It’s incredible how quickly and naturally a mother’s instinct to protect her young springs into action.

Just before the "incident"

Just before the “incident”

While climbing the stairs to the new toddler slide, a little girl blocked the way so my nearly two year-old couldn’t pass. When my sweet baby tried to get around her, the girl put her flattened hand straight on my daughter’s chest and shoved, pushing my daughter backwards off the steps, causing her to fall onto her back and head on the turf below.

Completely rattled, I grabbed my baby and looked around for the pusher’s parents who were nowhere to be seen. Not wanting to leave the scene of the crime without making sure that this kid had proper supervision, I told the little girl “sweetie, we don’t use our hands to push.” Suddenly a woman was in my face, harshly telling me she saw the whole thing and that her daughter didn’t push mine. I begged to differ and told her so, to which she yelled at me and started to walk away. I wished her luck raising her daughter with such a skewed value set (okay, I might not have said it quite like that). Meanwhile, as my daughter cried on my shoulder I found my husband and older daughter by the swings and breathlessly recounted the entire story, holding back tears myself.

Luckily, my daughter is fine aside from the emotional scar she is carrying with her as she continually repeats, “girl pushed me.” And, though I really wanted to give that mother a taste of her daughter’s own medicine, I took the high road and instead talked to my little one about being kind, even when others aren’t kind to us. She understands, as best as a two year-old can, that hands are not for hitting and that it’s important to treat people the way we want to be treated.

As I’ve reflected on that moment over and over again for the last 48 hours, I’ve grappled with what else I could have done. Should I have been standing closer to my daughter on the steps and caught her before she fell? Probably. But, at the same time, I believe a little independence in a safe setting is an important stepping-stone in growing up. And, the three feet distance that I stood away from the stairs was enough for my daughter to feel accomplished in getting to the slide “all by myself!” while still keeping me engaged in her exploration. Should I have said nothing to the child instead of trying to use her action as a collective teachable moment? Probably. But, at the same time, don’t we all want our kids to grow up in a world where they are taught right from wrong, even if the lesson is coming from a source other than a parent? I do, but I guess that other mom would disagree.

friendsThat moment on the playground shows me how important having a “village” is. My husband and I are blessed to have made a connection with a few other parents from our daycare, allowing us to spend time with the eight adults and seven kids with some interchangeable parenting. The kids listen to each of us. We are all comfortable with each other’s parenting style and trust each other to right one of our children’s wrongs. I took this for granted on the playground, assuming that this other mother would be appreciative of me using the altercation between our girls as a teachable moment. Or that she would have had the grace to apologize, or make her daughter apologize because it was the right thing to do. Or, would have even showed a shred of compassion to see if my daughter was okay. Even if her daughter hadn’t pushed her, she was still a culprit in the fall and could have been taught about empathy, grace and apologies. But this mother and daughter duo are not a part of my village, and apparently the parenting code of decency stopped there.

As parents, it is our responsibility to equip our children with the tools and instill in our children the lessons necessary for making the world a better place. We need to teach our children to be kind people who will grow up to make a positive difference. A spat on the playground as toddlers evolves to bullying later on, and how we respond to it sets the tone now and in the future. There is nothing I can do to help that other mother see how deeply she missed the opportunity to role model good behavior to her daughter. But, I can teach my daughters to be caring individuals, and I can continue to role model what I believe to be the appropriate way to treat others, whether on the playground or otherwise. That’s my promise to them.

Finding the healing power of bandaids

I wouldn’t say that I lie to my kids. But I would be lying if I said that I don’t stretch the truth. Sure, you can judge me and drop your jaw incredulously, but we all do it. Sometimes it takes a little white lie to make everything in their world better. It starts pretty simply – “Here, let mommy kiss that boo-boo and make it all better.” Then it escalates a bit – “This is special fairy potion that I will spray in your room to keep the monsters away.” (Yeah, it’s water with a drop of lavender oil in it.)silly girls copy

In general, I do think it’s important to be honest with my children, as it plays an important role in teaching them right from wrong. But sometimes a stretch of the truth is easier and more effective than the hard facts. The perfect example of this: Band-Aids.

My kids fully believe in the healing power of Band-Aids. Maybe that’s because I’ve told them over and over again that a Band-Aid will make their boo-boo all better. They don’t need to know that a Band-Aid actually has no healing power whatsoever, and actually a Band-Aid causes more pain when we have to take it off. Nope, those facts are better left unsaid. If one of them gets a boo-boo, no matter how big or how small, all it takes is me asking them “Do you want a Band-Aid?” and suddenly their world that had become overrun by tears and devastation is righted. More often than not, they wear it for about 30 seconds and then suddenly whatever boo-boo they had is all better.

Of course, this is not a cheap habit since no kid wants the plain and boring beige colored Band-Aid. No, we have to have Jake and the Neverland Pirates Band-Aids. And, when those are not available, good ol’ stand-ins like Doc McStuffins or Dora or the occasional princess themed ones will have to do.

But the truth is that if all it takes is a Band-Aid to make my kids’ pain go away, I’ll take it. And, I’ll continue to stretch that truth as long as it works because there will definitely come a time when healing my kids wounds will take much more than a brightly colored bandage. Raising two girls already makes me aware that the “mean girl” stage is bound to come into play sooner or later. And, while I would never wish them to be the subject of a mean girl’s tormenting, I also can’t stand the idea that they could become mean girls themselves. Sometimes my older daughter comes running to me at the park to tell me about another girl who was mean to her on the slide. We talk about what it means to be a good friend and treating other people the way that we want to be treated, and about making sure that even if somebody is mean to us that we still show respect to them.

I know there will come a day that they will go running to their friends for help instead of asking me and I can only hope that at that point I’ve prepare them well. I can only hope that the Band-Aids of today become the teaching tools of tomorrow because when that day comes, it won’t be as easy as kissing the boo-boo and sticking a Band-Aid on it to make it all better…though a mom certainly can dream.