It began with a loose tooth and suddenly I felt myself being ushered into a new age of motherhood. With the shedding of one tooth, my firstborn was leaving babyhood behind and entering a new phase of childhood. If I were to be honest, there were other changes as well.
During the period of quarantine when there were no teachers or friends to distract, my daughter and I hit a mother/daughter sweet spot. Our new normal came with a lot of discussions. On and on the questions would come. And together we would figure it all out. How do you bake a cake from scratch? Will the germs ever go away? How do the babies get out of their mommy’s tummy? Our conversations became deeper and deeper. She would be lost in thought one minute, then turn to me and ask questions that would spark wonderful conversations.
My 5-year-old has seen a lot this year, and she has been forced to mature quickly, perhaps too quickly. Looking over my shoulder at the images of the protests one night, she noted that everyone looked angry and that she did not like that everyone was angry.
“Yes, baby, people are angry because bad things are happening, and they want it to stop!”
There was so much more to say, but for now, that simple explanation was enough. But, I feel the new age of motherhood approaching. The age when simple answers will not be enough. What do I tell her about George Floyd and the police? What can I say about loving the people who hurt us or the people we love? What should I say about other people’s anger or the anger that I have in my own heart? Can I teach her to love unconditionally when I sometimes struggle to live that basic truth? Do I tell her not to worry, baby, because we are far away and that will never happen here? I want to tell her that this will never happen to her or her brother because they were sweet and innocent and everyone looking at them will see that, and yet…
Facing these new questions makes me yearn for the days when if she was sad all I had to do was wave a stuffed animal in front of her and speak in a silly voice and all was right again. Those days are long gone now, I suppose.
“Do bad things happen in real life, and how do we stay safe when bad things happen?”
This time, we were driving in the car and I was unprepared. There was no context to the question, we weren’t looking at the protests, we weren’t discussing anything troubling. I looked over at my husband who was driving, and he seemed just as puzzled as me. My first instinct was to comfort her, to take her distress away, to protect her, but she was getting older. She was piecing together things she had seen and the things we had discussed and was asking for more information.
“Yes, baby, bad things do happen in real life. And when they do, it hurts us. Bad things happen to everyone at some time or another. But we will do everything we can to protect you and your brother. We will learn how to try and stay safe, and while we do everything we can, we will keep praying and trusting in God to protect us.”
This time there were tears, as the realization that the things she had seen or heard about on TV could one day collide with the life she lived.
Any plan I had to assure her she would always be safe came crashing down. This is not the time for platitudes. There are difficult but necessary discussions that needed to happen. And if we do not have these conversations now, one day she will hurt someone else with her own words. One day someone will hurt her. One day she will face injustice. One day she will cry for me to protect her. I do not know if I will be there on that day, so I need to help her today.
There are many things I still get to protect her from. That is my role as a parent. But she is observing the world around her. A world that is beautiful and fascinating but filled with difficult things, and I do not want to stop her from doing that.
It started with one tooth, but many things about her and about me will continue to slip away only to be replaced by other more permanent things. We are both growing and learning. Her job is to continue to seek information about who she is and the world around her. My new, not so new, job is to balance her exploration with loving guidance (and a mountain of prayer).