Sunday, April 25, 2010

Wisdom and luck often take turns parenting

Faster than I could think of the word for "falling" I was hurtling backward out of the truck to the pavement below.

My ankle was scraped and the heel of my palm was peppered with asphalt. I'd landed on my hip, but the skin on my hand took the brunt of the impact.

I could hear Ittybit through the filter of my thoughts — "stupid-stupid-stupid" — her voice registering alarm as she yelled "MOM! are you OK?"

As I sat on the ground with the car seat I'd been trying to retrieve, I shook my head and tried to reorganize my thoughts.

The moment I released the seat from the cab of the truck, I'd forgotten where I was and just stepped back.

I knew immediately where I had gone wrong. In the instant I stepped back my mind was merely pulling something from my own, close-to-the-ground sedan as my body had done a thousand times before. My mind wasn't three feet higher.

I still didn't stand up. I could feel a burning sensation on my ankle, though the blood had yet to seep to the surface of the scrape. Something felt wrong with my leg, but not so wrong that it would require a trip to an Emergency Room.

My ego was more bruised than my body. I fell out of the cab of a truck. It was a stupid mistake.

From where I was sitting, Ittbit seemed so far away it didn't occur to me that she could have been hurt.

I didn’t even think to ask. I thought she was just scared. The kind of scared I was when I watched my own mother fall off of a horse when I was a kid, a few years older than she.

When I finally stood and dusted myself off, dragged the stupid car seat back to the car from whence it came, her eyes filled up with tears. "I’m OK, honey," I say, trying to be reassuring.

"It’s not you, it’s me," she said, lifting the skirt of her dress. The white lines on her leg were faint, but proof nonetheless she hadn't escaped unscathed. The car seat had struck her after I had let go.

Parenthood seems a lot like this moment in so many respects. You go along and you go along and you go along, almost by rote, until something you should have seen coming knocks you flat on the ground.

As it's happening, you get the sensation that time slows to a crawl. Yet events are happening so fast you have trouble comprehending what it all means.

Our success as parents depends not as much on whether we fall, but how we pick ourselves off the ground. In some cases pretending to know exactly what we are doing, and convincing ourselves that what we are doing is the best course of action, is called for. Other times, admitting our mistakes is imperative.

Knowing the difference is either wisdom or luck.

As I sat on the ground focused on myself, overlooking the potential for harm where my daughter stood seemed to be a rookie mistake.

I go and hug my daughter. I wish I could rewind the moment and play it again, only make it better. Her wound isn't really on her body it's on her soul. She knows I am fallible, and that she can't protect me. I know that I can't always protect her, and that I might not even notice she's in jeopardy.

All we can do is take a deep breath and try again.

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