I want to protect my kids. I want to guard their hearts and shield their minds and keep their bodies safe. From the time they were in my arms, I could discern their cries and respond accordingly. I could hear the hurt or hunger or fear and everything in me would rise to respond. Because I love them so deeply, I want to protect my kids. Even when it may not be best.
Recently, my youngest son went off on his first Cadet camp-out. While he is generally calm and deeply reflective, he could not wait for this time of male bonding with his dad and some of his friends. He slept in a tent, ran around in the dark and came home tired and dirty.
As he unpacked his laundry and his stories from the weekend, he showed me a burn on his leg. The hot tip of a stick, right out of a campfire, broke off and landed just above his ankle. He had a scrape on his finger, bug bites everywhere and poison ivy on his face. There was a bruise on his eyelid, too.
As I looked over his injuries, he told me that he took a seven-mile bike ride over the weekend. He was so proud of himself for going the distance and riding a bike with hand-brakes and keeping up with the crowd of boys. He told me that he did wipe out once during that ride, and got the air knocked out of him. And lifting his shirt, he showed me a bruise on one of his ribs. I tried not to over-react to the hurt he had experienced. I listened to him talk about the things he learned and tried to be sympathetic about the fall. To keep him talking, I asked, “What was the best part of the weekend, buddy?” “The bike ride!” he exclaimed, “For sure!”
As I tucked my little one in bed that night, I was reminded that sometimes the hurts our kids endure do not dampen their experiences at all. Because, while riding a bike with a bunch of his friends was fun, falling and getting up taught him something about himself. Dusting off gravel and rubbing out a bruised rib taught him he is stronger than he may have known. Getting back on that bike and working to catch up helped him to see a strength that my protection may hide. My sweet, cello-playing, book-reading, sitting-quietly-watching-nature boy has an inner fortitude that he got to discover and use. And it made the bike ride, fall and all, the best part of his time away.
I still want to protect my boy. It breaks my heart to see him hurt. But listening to my son’s stories is helping me learn to stand back. I need to learn the same thing he needs to learn--that he is strong and trustworthy. That he can learn to stand even after a nasty fall.