Somebody Better Go Grab the Band-Aids
My children have a way of forcing out of my comfort zone. Not that I’m a total scaredy-cat, but there is something about getting a bit older, and having tiny people in your care, and realizing that your bones don’t quite bounce they way they did when you were eight that can make someone a bit more, well, staid. Careful. And dare I say? Boring.But kids–the same kids that have ruined air travel for me forever (my mind goes into hyperdrive: how many thousands of feet up in the air is my family, exactly? And there’s only one guaranteed result if the plane stops working?) are the same ones that push me, without realizing it, to get back to that same eight-year-old Leah who would race down a gravel hill on her new bike, hands in the air, not caring a whit that she hadn’t yet learned how to use the brakes (and, granted, that ride ended with me doing an aerial somersault over my handlebars in an accident so harrowing even the neighborhood bully came racing over to see if I was okay). Because children just live. They live, without the worry about what will happen, and because of that? Well, think about this: who has more fun at the pool–the kids cannonballing into the deep end, or the moms sweltering on the concrete beside them, self-consciously adjusting their full-coverage tankinis?Exactly.I’ve been thinking about it this summer, because it’s the first year where Quinlan has gotten really, truly brave. And it’s hard to fret about the safety of the amusement park ride you’re on when you’re sitting behind two little girls laughing hysterically as the roller coaster whips down that first hill. You just remember that you love roller coasters, too.And yet: you, the worried mother, go to the ocean, and stand uncomfortably in the breakers, your feet sinking more and more into the rocky shoreline, as you watch your children wade in with their dad holding on to them. You worry about sharks and jellyfish and invisible riptides until you finally swim through to the calmer water yourself and remember why you love the ocean, and how the world on the other side of those breakers is a completely different one, full of peace and calm and joy, and that seeing your girls as you float beside them–one child in her father’s arms, the other breaking from his hand to swim beside the both of you–experience that same feeling is something you’d never witness if you stayed on the beach, just watching.At home, you take the kids to play in the creek, the gorgeous wide creek that is one of the best parts of where you live, and feel instantly awful for telling your older daughter to watch out for snakes. You feel awful because as you wade to the little rocky beach across the way with them, your daughter gets scared when a piece of long grass wraps around her ankle, and she wouldn’t have if you hadn’t planted the seed of fear in her mind. Because before that, she was watching fish, and pointing out oyster shells, and playing “pirate” with her siblings. She’s only eight. You remember that you need to be eight sometimes, too. Or at the very least, let her be eight herself.But then you remember that you swam with your children in a pool on vacation, that you encouraged your eight- and six-year-olds, burgeoning swimmers with room to grow, to jump and dive and cannonball into the deep end while you and their father laughed and cheered and hovered, quietly treading the water, letting them know they’re safe, but not reminding them that they need to be afraid. You feel better about yourself because you remember that you dove in with them, jumped, played games and got chased and chased them around the pool. That you threw their little brother in the air as he laughed before splashing back down into the water. That he never looked happier than when he was paddling through the water, his little swimming vest giving him the confidence to see what he can do. That you, almost forty and with the work-out habits of a decrepit turtle, didn’t worry about your own two-piece swimsuit (purchased in a fit of “thirty-nine, don’t care”), or that your beachside indulgence of hush puppies and Corona had greatly outweighed any exercise you could’ve done instead. You ran out the door without your make-up on, with your wild hair all air-dried and crazy-wavy. You didn’t care. You remembered what it was like to be eight. And that eight-year-olds seem to laugh way more than their grown-up counterparts do. (You wish you could be more like that with your writing, running into the breakers with your crazy hair, leaping headfirst into the pool’s deep end without worrying if you remember how to properly dive. You vow to remember this when you get back home, when the whispers of self-doubt grow loud. You vow to remember what it’s like to jump through the crashing waves because you know that the other side brings calmer water, softer sand, firmer footing. And sharks, too. There are sharks. You don’t forget the sharks. But you realize that the risk is so small compared to the reward.)Eight. When you leave the beach with more sand in your swimsuit than is in the ocean. When you can do a diving belly flop and come up for air with a laugh. When you practice handstands over and over again until you get it right. When you dive through the breakers and throw your hands in the air and shout “Race you!” after you’ve already started running.In many ways, this needs to be the summer of eight. I still have the scars on my knees and arm from that fall off my bike thirty years ago, you know. And I like the reminder. I haven’t lived the most daring life, in the dangerous sense. Hot-air ballooning and walking along the edges of cliffs is about as extreme as I’ve gone. But I’ve moved to new places by myself. I’ve started new careers on a whim. I semi-brag that I married a guy I’d known less than a year (if that’s not daring, what is? Hey-oh!). Danger has never been my middle name. But brave can be. Brave can always be.Or simply eight. Because eight is brave, yes, but not in a conscious way.Eight just means you’re really living.