I'm another year older, and another year wiser. I know more now than I ever have, and yet the gaps in my knowledge seem broader than they ever have before. I wonder if that is what wisdom is ... recognizing that what you know is a mere twinkle in comparison to what you don't.
About a decade ago I became a mother for the first time. I was gifted a little boy that was incredibly well behaved. I did not know this was a gift. I knew I loved him and breathed for him; I knew he was fantastic, but I attributed his behavior to my superior parenting skills. It was because I was loving, nurturing, and simultaneously firm, that I was able to guide his behavior into the category of "excellent". I believed this was my doing.
"Jet's a good boy, because I am a good Mom." - Thoughts from Taylor, circa 2007
Wrong. I was wrong.
Two years ago (aka, eight years after my son was born) I had a little girl. I love my little girl just as I have loved my little boy. I am the same person - a little growth here and there - but ultimately the same levels of nurturing and firm. But my results ... oh man, do they vary! My sweet Navy is cuckoo. She reminds me daily that I had previously won the "child disposition lottery" with Jet, and it had very little (if anything at all) to do with me and my parenting techniques. She has been a jolt to my system ... A nagging reminder that I have no idea what I am doing. Ever.
It's humbling to see your pride get owned. Especially when it slaps you in the face (I'm being both figurative and literal in this case!) on a daily basis. While my approach remains the same, and my consistency is solid ... I do not have the same effect on my daughter as I did with my son. She is the kid that tantrums in public. Or (sometimes worse) in front of others, acts like the most amazing version of herself - which feels like smite, especially when I've gone on a long tangent about how unruly she is. In a nutshell, she is the kind of kid that does exactly what she wants, when she wants - and it's usually the polar opposite of whatever I'm wanting her to do. She's just colorful like that. She's fun, she's cuddly, but mostly ... she cray.
Kids like Navy are the reason child leashes exist. A decade ago I was not so enlightened. When I saw monkey backpack leashes, I secretively (or maybe not so secretively) judged the parents who adorned their children in them. I did not get it. I did not have a Navy.
Several posts back I wrote about my wild day at the doctor's office. I was alone. I was outnumbered. And I was probably being unfair in thinking that Jet (the great and well behaved boy that he is!) could help wrangle Navy in that office. I ended that day feeling true defeat. I recognized that I was simply "too pregnant" to handle the cardio workout that is also known as parenting my kiddos ... or at least, not without help. After a conversation with my Mom, where I laughed off my defeat and again proclaimed that Navy was the kid that needed to be leashed ... she called me out on why I didn't actually own a leash. The only valid reason I had was the judgment that I knew I would receive. But after a day like that day - I didn't think I could care anymore. So I bought not one, but TWO leashes. (A monkey backpack, being one.)
I have been continually apprehensive to use them. I find myself explaining my (rare) usage to others around me. I went to meet a few of Johnny's coworkers the other day. On our way to the store, I found my leashed child and myself getting stared down. I could hear the thoughts and silent judgments. But there I was, nearly 9 months pregnant - doing my best to keep both kids safe. When the introductions began, I heard myself explaining the leash. I felt the embarrassment come right off my tongue. It doesn't feel good to be judged for decisions, even when they are made with the best of intentions. I can't be sure that anybody actually judged me ... but maybe I felt like 23 year old Taylor would have, and so I put my decade old thoughts in their heads.
Fast forward to yesterday. I took the kiddos to the zoo. I was meeting a friend from my childhood (hey Lindsay, hey!) along with her husband, and their 2 year old daughter, Violet. I had the stroller. I had the leash. I had Jet. I felt as prepared as I could be. Navy immediately unclipped herself from the stroller, and climbed out. (This was after gagging herself in the car and covering her jacket in milk barf. Gross!) We had just started, and I was already pooped. This is when I should have just leashed the gal, but my pride got the best of me, and I let her roam free. Jet chased her. I chased her. But she mostly followed after Lindsay's daughter Violet. For most of our visit she was controllable. No complaints.
But then it happened. A split second of lapsed judgment that nearly cost me my daughter's life. I wish I was exaggerating. We left a petting zoo exhibit - goats and chickens and other farm animals. Violet ran to the left, as did Jet. I saw Navy run - I wrongly assumed she ran after Violet (because she had for the previous two hours) ... I fiddled with something in the stroller, looked up and could not spot where Navy was. I saw Jet, asked him where his sister was - and began to panic. Thank goodness for my little guy and his hawk eyes, he spotted her immediately. In the opposite direction of Violet, was Navy. She had climbed through a fence (chasing after a chicken) and was standing on the edge of a cliff. Jet jumped the fence, grabbed her, and the scary stuff ended. This whole scene existed in a 30 second time frame. Maybe even less. I looked at Navy, standing on the cliff ... below her were trees and brush ... a good 20-30 foot drop ... I couldn't let myself imagine what would have happened if we hadn't caught her exactly when we did. It shook me up, but it took hours to process exactly how scary the whole scene truly was.
I had a near death experience as a kid. I was locked in a fridge (accidentally of course) and my Mom, by a stroke of luck or God's goodwill, found me before I suffocated. It's a story neither of my parents can repeat without feeling sick. Even still. It's a story they'd just rather not relive. I understand now. The more I thought about Navy, the cliff, and the short time span that the whole ordeal had taken place in - the more my stomach flipped and my heart dropped and ... the more I recognized my need for the leash and my daughter's safety.
I vowed to check my pride. I vowed last night, in bed, with tears in my eyes, that I would never put my ego or pride above my children's safety ... even if it meant subjecting myself to uncomfortable stares. Truly, a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. I never want to feel that terror again. Stare away mall patrons and zoo goers. I choose safety and monkey leashes!
I'm writing this because - there are so many other taboo things out there that we all have had to deal with. People experience judgment and pride battles day in and day out. We jeopardize our safety or sanity because we don't want to sacrifice our pride or subject I ourselves to other people's judgments. We have to cut that crap out, you guys! We cannot understand another person's journey until we have walked in their shoes.
A decade of delightful childhood behavior has not made me a better Mom than others ... it's simply made me a lucky Mom. I vow to try and recognize ... you don't know, until you know. And with Navy ... now I know.