On Sunday, Olive, my sister Lizzie and I packed up a picnic and drove out to a nearby waterfall to go for a hike with my dad (also known as Pop Pop, a moniker that never fails to make me laugh, because my dad grew up addressing his own father as…Father. And now he’s Pop Pop. This is the power of a grandchild at work.)
It was a gorgeous day, and we walked around looking at the waterfall and the three fearless men plunging their kayaks over the frothy edge of it, one after the other after the other.
At one point during the walk, I looked over to see Olive scrambling up a small rock ledge toward a fence behind us. I looked up and my heart leapt into my throat and I felt a shriek bubble up inside of me, lit with pure fear. GET DOWN! I wanted to yell, I imagined her losing her footing and slipping, scraping her skin or bashing her head or worse, continuing to tumble down down down into the water below (somehow crashing through the fence and retaining wall..because, of course, right? )
I felt myself move toward her instinctively and then I stopped.
I positioned myself beneath her, I held my breath, and I watched.
I watched her concentration, and how carefully she was picking her route. She grappled with the rocks, testing how firmly they held. I watched her fit the toes of her running shoes into cracks and outcroppings, I watched her step onto little ledges and use her arms and her legs and her heart to heave herself up.
I was so terrified. And so proud. And when she reached the top she turned around, saw me watching and crowed triumphantly, “I DID it!” and I immediately felt this rush of love for her, but also, strangely, for all of the so-called helicopter parents of the world.
Because, that feeling? That initial grip of fear that your child will fall or break or suffer? That is the exact place where helicopter parenting is born. And you will not find me arguing for one second that that kind of strange obsessive smothering parenting is right or productive, but I am going on record right now as saying that I fucking get it. The insanity comes from such a pure, good place. It’s the part in you that wants to hold your child in your lap forever and protect them from anything that will harm them – be it sharp rocks and a swift fall, disappointment, or even heartbreak.
Even having grown so much lately from my own pain and loss, even knowing that I can trace the most important moments in my life to the excruciating events that came before them, I still want to spare her. It’s that instinctive.
I had to almost physically restrain myself from rushing up and holding Olive’s hand through every single point in that tiny solo climb she embarked upon. But I worry that she’s started taking after me in the athleticism department (recently, at the top of a verrry gentle incline on our lawn she stood there immobilized, yelling “How I can get down this big hill?”) and so seeing her take this step – those very literal steps – toward something braver and stronger and more fearless…how could I pull her back? How could I shout to BE CAREFUL when I could see so clearly that she was? How could I possibly go and interrupt her during this daring adventure, how could I have missed hearing her triumphant shout or witnessing that gleeful victory?
She could have fallen. She could have scraped her knees or broken something. It would have been gut-wrenching and scary as fuck, I never would have forgiven myself. But I’ve written before about my belief that the long-term negative effects of sheltering and protecting her far outweigh the short-term risks.
I don’t want to protect her from this life. I want to prepare her.
And sometimes the fact is, that despite how careful you are and how slowly you measuse your steps, you fall.
This idea of preparing vs. protecting comes straight from my mom. She is a very wise woman (remember this email?), and undoubtedly one of the best moms I know. And when I was crawling through the worst of things this past winter she might not have erased my pain with the flick of a magic wand, knowing as she does that I had to go through it in order to get to the positive place I am now, but I can absolutely guarantee that she wanted to. With every piece of her.
It’s so easy to make fun of them, those helicopter parents, their antics make them such an easy target. But we are all helicopter parents somewhere inside. We all have to fight against that urge to yell at the rude kid on the playground or ream out the insensitive friend, enlighten the teacher who simply doesn’t understand how amazing our child is. Some of us lose that fight occasionally and have to remind ourselves to reign in the crazy… aaaand for others the force of that crazy is just too strong and then you do insane stuff and end up on The Internets.
Yes, helicopter parents are ridiculous, but love makes us do funny things, doesn’t it. I have known no love greater or more pure than what I feel as a parent for my child.
Climb on, Olive! I’ll sit on my hands. I’m so proud of you!