There is a gap between the mother I am and the mother I want to be. More like a yawning chasm. I’m not talking about the fact that I’d like to be more patient, bake more cookies, speak fluent Spanish, feed them freshly-prepared, organic food and actually enjoy craft projects. Some of the mommy guilt is valid and I strive to be better when I can. Some of it is media-driven crap, frankly, and I try to recognize it for what it is and weed it out when I can.
I’m talking about a real gap, soul deep. A resounding clash of ideology and reality.
The mother I want to be encourages exploration and adventure. She thinks this world is a head-over-heels beautiful, exciting place and she wants her kids to see it and touch it and taste it and love it like she does. She’s backpacked the world and she wants to travel with her kids. Two of her best friends live in Africa right this moment and, without hesitating, she packs up her young children and seizes the opportunity to experience that continent with them. (The mother I want to be has unlimited funds, I should mention.)
The mother I am, poor girl, is still reeling. She got knocked off kilter when the doctor placed her newborn son in her trembling arms three years ago and she hasn’t quite righted herself yet. Everyone told her about the love. How it would change her, how she couldn’t possibly know until she knew. They forgot to mention the stark raving terror. Or maybe they did and I just didn’t listen.
I hear Africa and think, Ebola Zaire, it makes you bleed from your eyes. I know that contracting a horrible disease is an infinitesimal risk. A risk I laughed at, when it was my health that was at stake. Now, I quake. What if? For them, I would give up Africa, all travel, if I really thought that was where the big risks lay. But, my brain knows it is not true, that my fragile heart deceives me. My brain knows that merging onto the local highway, when I feel so confident in my illusion of control, is the real place of terrors.
I would pad their entire lives if I thought it would keep them free from pain. I cry with Marlin EVERY SINGLE DAMN TIME when he says, I promised him nothing would ever happen to him and Dory tells him, But, then NOTHING would EVER happen to him. It’s like Milli Vanilli lip synced when I was a teen (I went to a concert, talk about pain) – the joy and pain, like sunshine and rain. What is one really without the other? What is life without both?
The mother I want to be has children who are bold. She raises eager learners who, while careful, are rarely timid. They’ve been shown that life is to be savored and new experiences are the spice that seasons it. They don’t fear mountain slopes covered in snow the way she does. They revel in the speed and adrenaline, secure in their abilities. They don’t fear failure because they understand that it paves the road to success.
Her children are as comfortable around horses as she is. They have learned the dangers and the way to handle themselves and they are safe – as safe as we ever are in the world. She watches their riding lessons full of joy. She wants them to know the feeling of a partnership with an animal of such power and the peace of riding through nature without the hum of motors.
The mother I am can barely watch the lessons. Their instructor takes them into the field to catch Hank, a gentle, quiet giant. A simple task I have executed a thousand times. They listen to her. They are quiet and slow. They walk to his head and not behind him. And yet. And yet I stand at the fence with my heart in my mouth and my stomach near my knees.
I don’t see patient Hank, nudging their pockets with his muzzle. I see the quick flash of hooves if he were frightened. I see who would lose the battle between his 500 pound mass and my 30 pound toddlers. I see them crumpled on the ground. The risks are small. But, they aren’t none. They are never none, are they?
“Look momma,” they call, beside themselves with glee when Candy, the other horse in the field, approaches. She nibbles Gee’s hair and he cannot contain his delight. He shrieks giggles and she pulls back, startled.
“Softly baby,” I remind him. “Quiet voices around the horses.”
“It’s okay momma.” Yes, it is. Don’t mind me, I’m just over here nursing the gaping hole in my soul.
I don’t think I let it show. I won’t instill my fears in them. Caution, yes, and knowledge. The horses are big. They can hurt with their feet. Use gentle voices. Be aware of where you are standing. Caution and knowledge are not the same as fear.
Meanwhile, all I can do is pretend. I pretend that my heart hasn’t ceased to beat and my every breath doesn’t hurt. I want them to live every moment, but, oh, how I want to protect them while they are doing it. So, I remind them. Cars can’t see you. Horses are very strong. Strangers aren’t always nice people. I pad what I can with five point harnesses, helmets, airbags and words. At their root, my fears are selfish, selfish things. It’s not that they can be taken out of this world that strikes the worst fear in me. We all live with that truth. It’s that I could be left behind. My deepest fear is trying to survive in a world that had them in it and lost them.