Bella was a ball of nerves and jealousy as Javi kept riding far ahead of us. She would yell out to him at regular intervals, "Javi, come back here with us! You get back here!" Her plump, brown legs couldn't move fast enough to keep up with him, and wouldn't give in to my constant encouragement that she was doing a great job even at her slower pace. And so I knew when I saw Javi ride to the top of a neighbor's steep driveway, perch at the top of it and then rocket down it, that my fearless girl would demand to do the same.
She watched him do it again and again as we slowly made our way to the bottom of that small hill. She gave me her wolf-heart smile as she climbed off her trike and pushed it slowly up the concrete driveway. I watched her with my fearful heart sitting in my throat. The reasons to stop her and endure the tantrum were many: she's still a baby, her trike too unstable, the hill too high, the terrain too rocky... And yet there was her brave face, the sure set of her shoulders, the bright confidence in her eyes. I did the only thing I knew to do -- I bit down on my fear and watch her push off, hair flying as she whipped down the incline.
Nearly halfway down, she let gravity take over. She threw her arms out and lifted her feet off the pedals, her body alive and fearless as her trike cut through the air. Just as I began releasing the stress and fear, just as I began to revel in her magnificent spirit, her front wheel hit a rock and the trike careened off course. The momentum caused her to fly slightly out of her seat, which sent her trike into a tumble. Suddenly she was skidding on the concrete and the trike was on top of her.
In a fluid arc of motion, I raced to her. There was no sound as I pulled her off the trike and into my arms. I could feel her heart thud, and the rocks and dirt crunch under my feet, as I found a spot to flop down with her. For a split second, I worried that she was unconcious, but then she found her breath and let out a peal of screams. I rocked and soothed and cradled her until the cries died down. We sat still for another minute, Javi crouching beside us, his face creased with worry. Bella flexed and stretched and allowed us to check for broken bones and skin. We all realized that nothing on her was so much as scraped. She had flown and tumbled and skidded and yet the only thing wounded was her spirit.
I gathered our things up to go, but my wolf child had a different plan. With one hand on the handlebars and one on the seat, she began pushing her trike back up that steep incline. I tried to dissuade her, but she tossed her tangled curls over her shoulder, dug in her heels, and kept pushing. When she got to the top of the hill, she put her trike in place, sat on it and waited. She wanted to try it again, but I had no idea what the next right choice was: Do I stop my child from doing something that will hurt her, or do I allow her to persist at hard things until she conquers them? I had to make a choice and fast. Would I be a "keep at it" mom or a "play it safe" mom?
The answer became clear. I had to do what my mom didn't know how to do, and what I have spent a lifetime trying to learn. I had to allow my child to face down what was scary and unknown, and be the person who doesn't turn away in fear. I had to borrow my daughter's courage and allow her to keep trying. My job was to be her safety net at the bottom of the hill, her soft place to nurse her bruises and lick her wounds, her quiet haven where she could take stock of her hurts and find the courage to step out again.
I didn't stop her from pushing off. And this time she kept her feet on the pedals and her hands on the handlebars. She used her weight to keep the trike on course and her feet to keep the pedals from spinning wildly. She still flew down the incline, but she was cautious and steady. At the bottom, rather than landing in a heap, she sailed out onto the flat ground and came to a stop. Then she looked around with wide, disbelieving eyes and a wolfy face full of pride.
Not a day goes by that she doesn't teach me something new and profound. On that hill, she sprouted a tiny seed of courage in my heart. With it comes the knowledge that to best parent her wild spirit -- and to shore up her brother's more gentle one -- I must give that seed room to grow. Most importantly, I must nurture the field of bravery and courage and healthy fear that already grows lush and powerful in her heart.
As I battle my fearful heart, never can I allow it to turn either of them away from trying hard things. I will allow them to feel the wind on their faces as they soar toward their destinies -- even when I have no way to predict whether those destinies will bring joy or pain. That is my solemn oath and legacy for my children, and it's the best gift I'll ever give them.
**This post is part of Five for Ten, where we're giving each other five minutes a day for ten days. Won't you join us?**