I was sitting firmly on auto-pilot in the salon chair when the lady two seats across asked if I wished my son had never been born. She’d been recounting a recent scare, a horror really, when her daughter choked herself unconscious. An ambulance screamed to the scene, fervent prayers were cried, and her daughter’s life teetered on the high wire. She said to me, “There were a few minutes there when I really thought she was dying and I knew that meant I was dying too, worse than dying, and I wished she’d never been born because it was too painful. Do you ever wish your son had never been born?”
First thought: Oh maaaaaaaaaan. This is as close to a vacation as I am going to get. Can’t I just sit here sipping my cucumber water while my color sets and pretend not to be reading how stars are just like us?
Second thought: Every stylist and guest is now staring at me, waiting for a response that absolutely must be both sensitive and profound. Go ahead, say something sensitive and profound.
Me: “Well, mmmm, it’s hard.”
Mercifully we moved on to safer topics like swim diaper comparisons and beach packing for toddlers. But it’s stuck with me, her question. She said something moms aren’t supposed to say, like ever, and it got me thinking, and wrestling, and questioning.
As I write, I’m watching my boy. He’s fast asleep amid all the furniture and hygiene products that promise to be gentle and kind. And it is terrifying. Really it is, to love someone so much, and to have, if we are very honest, such vapors of control over their mortality.
Our kids, the little people we will tell one million times to be safe, play safe, drive safely; who we slather in appropriately rated SPF, and for whom we chop organic produce in choke proof pieces; they are the most dangerous things we have ever loved.
So what do we do? How do we let them live? Fully, wholly, live?
I will tell you this, I can hardly stand my son being hurt. But I’m told it’s inevitable as he learns to walk and navigate his chubby legs. We already have a little ritual. When he falls or bumps his head or scratches his leg, I chant both our tears back with one word, “Brave, brave, brave.”
The jig is up though. I am a coward in the face of a life of bug bites and blood and bruises. I do my level best to avoid the necessity of bravery. Still, despite my efforts and all the ways I keep my own fingers clamped to cabinet edges to avoid him smashing his own, he encounters pain. It seems I am unable to stand completely in its way. And by all accounts, it only gets worse.
We live in a city that is by no means rural. Toss a rock any direction, you’ll hit a Starbucks. Yet just a couple of weeks ago a woman was caught with deadly monkeys in her garage. Deadly monkeys! Scroll through a day of news and some kid somewhere killed their best friend or worst enemy on motives that hardly shock us any longer. I just read a warning about salmonella in spinach—I could be Vitamixing my family’s demise. Planes are falling from the sky; would it be surprising to learn there really were snakes on board this whole time? I’m not sure it would. Anything could be on those planes that will take our beloveds to visit grandparents, or go on senior trips, or study abroad, or have their destination wedding. Anything.
I’ve made a decision: I want my son to buy his ticket anyways. Brave, brave, brave. Get on the plane, take the trip, frolic and laugh with your head back when you get there.
I am not saying adventure trumps common sense or logical caution. I am not saying, as the lady in the salon suggested, that were my son to die (the very words looking back at me, a grenade in my heart!) I wouldn’t be flattened, a ghost of myself, unrecognizable. What I am saying is I don’t want to raise him as a flattened ghost right now. What I am saying is I want a play room not a panic room. What I am learning is in this lethal world, we must both be brave.
The only way I have found this possible is to lean into the bravest Father. At every turn I have to trust the Father who let his Son come to a dangerous city at a dangerous time and grow up to say very dangerous things. I must learn from Him the difference between safe and sheltered, from protected and imprisoned, from realistic and Rapunzel trapped in her tower. I have to trust, to pray, to practice courage not because so much of this world is fatal, but because a great lot of it is heart-stoppingly beautiful, and I don’t want him to miss it.
Read warning labels, wear a helmet, listen to your Pops when he tells you to watch your six, and for the love buckle that seat belt and take your vitamins. But what’s it all worth if you don’t go the prom for fear there might be pig’s blood? Why buy sensible shoes if you’re not going to dance?
This does not come easy. I don’t have a profound answer for my friend at the salon. But I have a simple one. Do I wish my son had never been born? Not for a second. Am I afraid of losing him? All the time. How do I function in light of all that Google tells me is lurking just outside? I pray and I trust until I don’t and then I start over. Maybe that’s one of the great lessons of this parenting gig: We are not in control, we never were, but Someone is. With tears in my eyes I tell my hurting, curious, explorer boy, “Brave, brave, brave.” I tell you, Mama, I grab your hand cause it’s the scary part and we don’t know what’s around that dark corner, and we say together, “Brave, brave, brave.”
Written by April Hoss.