When Your Heart Walks the Earth

The altered baseline that comes with seasoned parenthood.

Photo credit: author

My husband and I were walking down the sidewalk in a small tourist town in Iowa primarily designed to promote the local beef production. It was a busy Saturday night on the street lined with restaurants.

The culture in Iowa is different than that of the city were my children were born and raised. I wouldn’t let my kids in their teenage years walk to the mailbox without using the buddy system let alone leave them unattended when they played. Kids out here run rampant and free.

Our buzzer buzzed indicating our table at the the restaurant was ready. As we stepped down from the gazebo there was a small boy, two or three years in age sitting on top of a bicycle lock rack without a parent supervising him within an eye’s view.

My husband felt concerned, not wanting to leave the area where the child was. What if he falls from there? What if he hurts himself? What if he can’t get down?

When our own children were that age my motherly instinct was to coddle them and stop them from doing anything and everything that might potentially cause harm. I wanted to prevent them from bruises and hurt feelings. I was convinced I were a good mother only if I were to shield them from the ugly feelings the world is capable of causing.

This of course is not realistic. Any mother knows that unless you imprison your child in a bubble all of the things you focus your energy on not happening- are with no doubt going to happen.

It’s unavoidable but the bumps and bruises, nicks and dings always end with a few tears and a kiss from mama that fixes most anything.

It’s a constant inner struggle. There is no love I have ever experienced compared to the love I feel for my children. There is no length I wouldn’t go to keep them safe. It’s as if my heart is walking the earth and at times that comes with unbearable aches and pain.

It wasn’t just my husband. I gasped for air when I saw this young boy. It took a moment to shake it off and remind myself the most important thing I’ve learned from parenting. Unless it’s going to kill them, leave it be. The fact is, falling off the bike rack’s worst case scenario wouldn’t be fatal.

We wouldn’t want this to happen to our child, or anyone else’s for that matter but we can’t prevent everything. We may desperately want to, strive to and lose sleep over plotting and planning, but it’s inevitable.

As much as I truly wish I could control freak my children to this day, it only gets worse as they grow up and there’s nothing we can do other than be there when they need us.

We’ve survived the early teenage years when breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend meant threatening to starve, never leave their bedroom again and perhaps even death by tears.

Car accidents, illnesses, arguments, rebellion and the consequences of some not so good ideas. The toddler phase proved nothing of what still lay ahead.

We’ve survived years of skateboarding where the truest form of physical damage has been done. A shattered clavicle requiring emergency reconstructive surgery, repeated split elbow joints, each time requiring months of physical therapy and most likely ending with severe arthritis by the time he’s in his forties.

We’ve graduated from stitches in the head to our most recent uninspired accomplishment of staples. It wasn’t the pool of blood, forty minute ambulance ride to the nearest hospital with a trauma center or the staples that was the scariest part. It was the few hours he couldn’t remember so much as who I was that caused me to breakdown in fear and fall apart.

We’ve survived heroin addiction where we laid awake in bed at night scared she would die. We somehow made it through petitioning the court for substance abuse treatment, the state filing a mental health committal against her and waking up one morning to discover she had vanished in the middle of the night in efforts to evade the court order.

I searched, piecing together every clue, working closely with the police who let her slip through their fingers 600 miles away, 24 hours after we reported she was gone. Several weeks later I found her 1500 miles from home. She wouldn’t speak with me. She told me I was crazy because I hunted her down. My husband flew out to meet with her. At 20 years old she refused to come back and chose homelessness instead of the help she so desperately needed.

Even now, with her sleeping safely across the hall from me I barely rest peacefully in fear it may happen again.

We went as far as to build a skate ramp in our own backyard so we’re right there to call an ambulance whenever deemed needed.

We caught a glimpse of the small boy’s parents in the distance walking toward him when the buzzer buzzed again. I grabbed my husband’s hand. He’ll be fine, I said. If I knew then what I know now, falling off a bike rack is harmless.

My husband agreed. You’re right, he chuckled. Our kids have altered our baseline.

It’s true. At times it has been hell but as parents, we love them just the same.

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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