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.
OMG. I hear you. Mine is 300 miles away now and I lay awake some nights hoping against hope that I have prepared her properly for her journey. We can only arm that, we cannot shelter them forever. That’s easy to say, tough to do 🙂
It sure is Jackie. And given everything I have read on your blog? I’m guessing your daughter is more than equipped. Even still, I do understand the worry part…
Roz Warren says
You do the best you can. Sometimes it isn’t enough. 🙁
True. Sometimes it’s not.
Ruth Curran says
As read this line (three times): “Send the tough stuff to me…please keep them safe…let them be strong from all that they do, not what they endure” I thought….So often we (and our children) put people who overcome adversity and who had the strength to rise above the crap in life in the highest place of honor – sending the message that in order to celebrate you must first suffer. As I read your words, I felt you saying that there is so much to celebrate – even those things that come out of a choice to “do” and “act” and the more we celebrate those things, the more we can make the everyday choices, great choices and ones to wear like a badge of honor. And then I heard you read it and realized it all goes so much deeper than that. I love reading your writing but hearing you read it added a dimension that I missed. Thank you for the hopeful moment in my day Elin!
Thank you Ruth, I so appreciate your comment about hearing the excerpt. xo
Cathy Chester says
No that I finished with my Kleenex, I can tell you that you ripped open my heart with your words and gorgeous photos (and children) because I think about that a lot. How can we protect them? And, yes, I’d rather something happen to me than to my son. Oh, what a gorgeous post, Elin. Something I’d expect from you. Wow.
Those emotions are so strong, aren’t they? Thank you Cathy.
Cathy Chester says
That first word should have been NOW…
Carol Cassara says
So moving and appropriate. blessings to all parents.
Karen D. Austin says
Every day I have to balance safety needs for my kids and autonomy needs. It’s such a tightrope to walk — and a judgement call to make every time. I never know for sure if I’m hovering too much or being too permissive. Very eloquently phrased concerns. Thanks for shedding light on your inner dialogue for this parenting topic.
It is a fine balance. My mother used to say, “Hold close with open hands.” An expression I find today really resonates.
Carpool Goddess says
Elin, I worry too about protecting my kids. Both of mine are in school on the other side of the country and it drives me crazy (when I allow myself to think about it) to think they are so far away and that I can’t protect them. Like you, I pray a lot.
So far the two that have flown from the nest stayed in California, not that they are easily reached, but I do imagine it would be harder if they were across the country. Bottom line is we have prepared them, they will have their own experiences, hurts, triumphs…and we will be there to support them through all of it.
Lisa @ Grandma's Briefs says
My, oh, my how verklempt you’ve made this overprotective mother… whose children have somehow survived so very much (including my hovering and helicoptering) and came out strong yet kind women who love not only the world but themselves, too. I love your words, your voice and your wisdom.
Thank you Lisa. Something you said is SO important, “strong yet kind women who love not only the world but themselves, too.” Wow. Love that.
Ines Roe says
I was very touched by you post and the desperate wish we have as parents to protect our children from harm. I was also taken by the realization you point out of allowing them to have their triumphs and learn from their mistakes. My two children are grown and I am a recent grandmother. The wish to protect is ever present and now I see it repeated in my daughter towards her son.
Thank you Ines. I look forward to the day when we have grandchildren, not in a hurry, but I imagine it will be such a gift. And yes, I do imagine that the desire to protect carries on…
beautiful words, my heart has been broken so many times thinking I had done something to harm my children, or not being able to protect them from everything. Then I remember the chick and the egg, they have to peck their way out to be strong. Life….
How perfectly put, Donna. They do have to peck their way out to be strong.
Mary Lanzavecchia says
Daily, I pull myself back from the brink of wanting to call my C home, to have her within the borders of the same state, and then I remember that if not today, there would always come a day she flies away. That is what I have been training her wings to do all along, but a mama’s heart will always worry if those wings are strong enough to lift her far away from danger and hurt while carrying her towards her dreams.
“If not today…” so true Mary!
Lois Alter Mark says
Waaaaaaah! The video is gorgeous – like your family, your words, your spirit. There are so many days — okay, every day — I want to just wrap my kids in a bubble to keep them safe but I know, like you, they have to make their own mistakes and learn their own lessons. I just pray for them to have soft landings when they do fall.
Soft landing indeed. I dare say none of get out of here without some hurt… Thanks Lois.
This is beautiful! I sometimes think “what if…” myself.
Beth Havey says
You take us to the heart of motherhood, the responsibility and the fact that there
are things beyond us we cannot control. Maybe it’s faith, maybe it’s the fact that
bringing children into the world says Okay, I believe that you will be fine, that I
can protect you. We do our best. Having others like you in the world helps make that
Thank you, Beth. How right you are, we do our best. And there are those days when “best” doesn’t feel as if it is enough. Happily they are often followed by days where it all clicks and that thing called worry takes the back seat for a while. May we all create more of the latter.