My face is red and hot, my shoulders heaving with failure. We’re tucked away in a back room, far from where my husband’s colleagues can see us. My daughter is holding my hand now, when ten minutes ago I was holding her, shushing her and pulling horrible thorns from her sweet baby cheeks.
As her warm, small hand grips mine, she assures me that she’s here with me. My heart and head ache in confusion. As her mother, shouldn’t I always be the one providing reassurance, safety and comfort?
It’s just that earlier I was not. I was not right there with her when she took a plunge into a giant bush covered in face slicing prickles. How could I have let this happen? They are everywhere, stuck in arms, legs, and face. An inch long one lodged in her left ring finger, angry and bleeding. My frustration and guilt rise up in me like a wave, smothering all the good I have done all day long.
To get to this work party I woke her up just early enough in the morning, ensuring she could then take a nap later and be rested for the fun. I ran laps outside with her, tiring her out so sleep would come. Dinner snacks were packed because there is never the right amount of food at these parties for everyone. Drink cups filled, favorite toys loaded in, car seat buckles clicked into place. I clothe myself in business casual—something that I hardly knew still existed in my closet. My hair has been combed, teeth brushed, and just the right amount of red lipstick applied in attempts to bolster the confidence I do not feel.
We’ve done these events for months now. My husband is at a new job, and I’ve been struggling to find my feet. I cannot seem to banter with the other participants. They all have worldly opinions and big subjects to chat about. I try to listen intently but the back of my brain edges into a verse from Daniel Tiger as I nod or shake my head.
I feel better when I’m side by side with my child. I’ve been away from the adult world for too long. What I have mastered now are multiple renditions of the ABCs and knowing which face she’ll make if she needs to pee. I know how to make all the right voices of characters in her favorite books. My star shines brightly as mother. The other parts of me are still buried in here somewhere, but for almost three years now I have answered exclusively to Mom.
I can tell I have to find her, that woman who remembers how to small talk and waltz in and out of delightful conversations. But my one eye is always rolling over to find my daughter. She’s the smallest of the kids that attend these events.
As soon as we arrive at the party I take mental notes on the myriad of obstacles. There are huge, head-crunching cement stairs to climb and unguarded rails to monkey swing from. There are leg-cutting gravel paths weaving in and out of the garden. Big kids are flying past on skateboards and lobbing balls into the air. I try to listen to the person in front of me, but I scan for her, tuned into what casualty could befall her.
All the rest of the parents do not seem to be worried, and shame lives within me because I’m that overprotective mom. The buzzing helicopter. The one that ruins all the fun. I know I can’t relax, and I know they smell it on me.
Before the party my husband gently but firmly asks for me to hover less. He is my mirror in life, reflecting back both the good and bad and truth in my parenting. I do the same for him. Our conversation spirals into how I have a hard time enjoying myself at these functions, my anxiety for our child’s well-being clouding the opportunity to allow her to grow. She needs to grow into her freedom. But this night my husband and I have talked, and I have vowed to try harder.
She wants to run and play and catch the big kids. Her little legs pump with the hope of keeping pace. Her face is jubilant and breathless with laughter. I let my shoulders droop down from my ears, watching her disappear around the corner path, running full tilt. It’s time to let her have this freedom.
But a few minutes pass and they don’t come back. I look around to notice if anyone else is watching. They are not. I turn the corner to see her, a football field distance from me, and her hands are reaching off the path…to pluck a flower from a thorn bush.
I’m jogging now, and I see her go in. She’s headfirst and the other kids do not notice. They are still galloping with free-hearted fun. She’s screaming and crying and trying to get out as the thorns go deeper. I sprint with her in my arms. Back inside, I don’t think about anything or anyone but keeping her calm, getting the thorns out, assessing the damage.
On this back sofa with her bandaged fingers and scratched face looking at me, the weight of it all crushes me. I should have followed my instincts. But I was trying to do better and give her space. She’s going to fall; that’s life. But I don’t want her to hurt. You have hurt before, and it made you stronger. She does not blame you for not being there. You have to forgive yourself.
It is a challenge for me to step back and let my child fail, even when I know the value of failing. The numerous attempts I have made where I have fallen flat on my face (with or without thorns in front of me) are humbling. I have always grown and learned from each terrible tumble. My parents allowed me to make mistakes, and to get scuffed up sometimes in the process.
It’s so much easier said than done.
Where I was a quick learner at swaddling and lullaby singing, now I realize I’ve hit my curve when it comes to raising a grown-up girl. I’m trying to let the thorn bush speak to me, each vicious needle I pluck a reminder of the pain and heartbreak to come. As much as it will hurt to watch her hurt, I will have to let her.
As for finding my way back to myself, the thorns are whispering about that too. They are reminding me that my motherhood vein runs deep. It has been beautifully developed, but it lives within me, alongside the rest of my pieces. Sometimes I have hidden myself in motherhood, even enjoying getting lost in it. But like the beautiful flower my daughter was reaching for before the fall, I have to start reaching back to life, knowing that even if I get pricked, I can make it through.
Guest post written by Lindsay Swoboda. Lindsay is a military spouse, mom, and writer. Her blog Uplifting Anchor encourages mothers and military spouses. As a former professional dancer you can find her doing pirouettes in the kitchen whilst also flipping pancakes. She finds solace in hearing the sound of her sewing machine and a hot cup of coffee. She’s lived and traveled all over the world but believes there is always more to experience. You can connect with Lindsay on Facebook or Instagram.