When my first child was born I remember thinking I would be able to protect him from harm. Then, in less than two months of being a mother, I dropped my baby.
Thankfully the only harm that was brought to him was the concussion he suffered.
It was among the most terrifying experiences of my life. I vividly remember sitting outside the X-Ray room waiting for the results that the slides of his skull would reveal. That single experience seeded the realization that I could cause harm to my own child. And if I couldn’t protect him from my own mistakes–the act of tripping–then how could I expect to keep him from people who would seek to do him harm.
The truth is I couldn’t.
Years later while writing my book I knew I had to address the concept of protection.
That is what led me to write the following excerpt from Tornado Warning:
The water is so clear today. The scattered surfers are protected by their full-length wet suits. I so admire the surfers out there in the frigid waters bobbing up and down void of fear. I can swim in my mind back stroke to a time when each of my children played on this beach, their fortitude and very being providing me with inspiration. I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. It is a privilege to be a parent, having a hand in the miracle of bearing and raising children.
Yet this miracle also brings responsibility. As parents, what can we do to prepare our children for the cruelty that exists? We zip our children into a proverbial full-body wet suit lined with life’s eruditions, a neoprene triple-layer of fabric to ward of hypothermia, scrapes, and snares. We smear UV70 sunblock across their faces, hands, and feet as if our mere touch and each application will prevent the ruthless incursion of any future cancer.
I can no more imagine one of my children experiencing violence than I can orbit the moon. I hear myself thinking things such as, “Over my dead body,” or “I’d kill the person who lays a finger on any one of them.” But all that bravado gives way to an utterance, a borderline beseeching that re-states how I can handle it: Send the tough stuff to me…please keep them safe…let them be strong from all that they do, not what they endure.
Protect, safeguard, shelter, save, harbor—yet in the long run protection is not enough. We can’t just keep our children in a bubble. We need to build their strengths, sharpen their tools, let them own their triumphs as well as their mistakes. We need to help them understand the gravity of their words and actions before they hurt another person. We need to raise them to be good people, strong people, contributing people, and all that potential is predicated upon their own self-confidence. For in due course, we must open our hands in a wave, catch our breath as these independent creatures slip into the world’s water. We find ourselves praying silently that this child of ours has what it takes to navigate safely.”
—An excerpt from Tornado Warning, A Memoir of Teen Dating Violence and Its Effect on a Woman’s Life, Elin Stebbins Waldal, Sound Beach Publishing (2011)
And here is a video of me reading the excerpt aloud with photos taken of my kids as a backdrop.