When my daughter was an infant I used to be terrified. Terrified that she would be hurt somehow, that there may be a second I was away from her that she needed me, that she would have a life full of pain and there was nothing I could do. I would hold her constantly, look at her paler-than-cream skin and her clear blue eyes, and I would be terrified. Just terrified.
All I wanted in the world was for her to be happy. I felt so woefully insufficient. So many girls I knew had been abused, I wondered if my daughter would be. If there were any way for me to protect her, always. I knew there wasn’t.
As I’ve already said: I was terrified.
One day, I had a revelation. I was talking with a friend, and she said, “all you can do is try every day to prepare them for the moments they are on their own, and then trust them.”
The best protection I could give my daughter was not my constant presence, but the preparation to be without me. The most I could do for her was not to guard her but to teach her to guard herself. Sure, she’s still a little thing, and too young to ever be without supervision, but already I find myself teaching her the life lessons that will get her through. When she says she is hungry I don’t jump up and run for food. I help her into the kitchen and help her pick out the food herself. When she can’t find a toy, I don’t tear apart the house for her, we do it together. And every day we come closer to the moment where I will realize that I am no longer so constantly needed. Soon the day will come where she looks on her own without asking me first, where she refills her own cup of water and doesn’t need me to take her into the bathroom to do her business.
Soon, my role will change, and I await it eagerly. Soon her lessons will be less about managing in daily life and more about how to treat other people, how to tell when someone is cruel and not a good friend, how to behave when out in public. And one day I will no longer be needed for those lessons, and instead I will be teaching her how to take care of younger kids and then babies, how to plan and cook meals, how to care for a house.
God help me, one of these days the lessons will start to be about sex and how to choose a life partner.
And all of these things, all of these lessons, these are how I protect her. I am not a pit bull or a black bear or a gun-toting mercenary, I am her mother. I protect her not with my strength but with my knowledge.
I look at her, at her supple spirit and tenacity, and I think that maybe I’m not even the one teaching her. Maybe by her accepting these lessons, she’s actually the one teaching me. Teaching me to trust, to let go of worry, to have faith, to wait for the seeds to sprout and the blossoms to show.
I have a lot to learn.