Sometimes, when darkness descends on my house and my husband is snoring peacefully, I imagine that one of my children died.
I pull the covers tighter and picture coming upon one of them, cold and motionless.
I imagine the hard metal that would spread through my belly. I hear the choking sobs. Sometimes, I get so close to picturing the pain that tears well in my eyes and the desire to hold one of my babies becomes a tingling sensation.
I toss off my blankets and stare at them while they sleep.
Their chests’ rise and fall.
And I experience just how tightly one can weave fear into love.
When I stand in their dimly lit doorways, I’m allowing a fraction of what I feel for my children to surface. When the house is quiet and they are in their beds, it’s safe to pull it out.
But in the daylight, when all that could harm them is illuminated, I simply can’t.
Because if I actually feel how much I love them, they wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house.
* * *
Before I had children, little scared me.
I lived, taking risks measured by my own yardstick.
But then I had a baby.
My body will never forget the weight of my first child resting in the crook of my arm. How his entire body fit between my elbow and my wrist.
One night, just a few weeks after his birth, a warm flood of love made me kiss his downy head and whisper, “I’ll always keep you safe.”
Blankets became deathtraps. Sidewalks recipes for busted teeth.
As if seeing them for the first time, car tires seemed massive.
In the children’s film, “Finding Nemo,” Marlin, who has lost his young son, screeches to his companion, Dory, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him!”
“Hmmm,” Dory says, “that’s a funny thing to promise.”
“What?!” Marlin shrieks.
“Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him,” she responds glibly. “Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun…”
The writer intends for you to share in the father’s “a-ha” moment — that he’s been holding his son back from experiencing the world.
But I can’t help but see Marlin’s point.
After all, here he is scouring the sea for his lost son.
The reality is that, when you first have a baby, it’s easy to keep them safe. You follow the guidelines, buckle them in their car seat and you feel secure.
But in the blink of an eye they are crawling, walking, tumbling, running, jumping, swimming, kicking, driving, dating and, finally, leaving.
And to survive all this, with every birthday celebration, my love for my children sinks a bit more below sea level.
The more risks they take, the less I can stand to feel what’s at stake. In a culture that equates supervision with love, it’s so hard let them take the risks which allow them to grow into beautiful, eager, surviving adults.
So, I suspect, as they age, my children will laugh at me when I can’t watch them climb to the top of our trees.
They’ll giggle at “silly Mom” who cries when they leave for their first sleep-away camp.
And they’ll sigh when I can’t stand to say goodbye from their first dorm room.
But, like Nemo, there is something they can’t begin to grasp.
Until they are grown and they have their own husbands and wives and little babies.
Until they too learn just how terrifying it is to love someone more than you love yourself.
Until they are standing in a doorway, crying over how big, crazy and terrifying that love seems to be in the still darkness.
You can find more of Betsy’s wonderful storytelling at the Nurture Project.