“No babies! No babies!” the two little girls shout in their high-pitched three-year-old voices from the top of the small flight of stairs. My daughter, only 18 months old at the time, stares up at the two older girls from beneath the brim of her floral cap, her feet planted firmly on the floor beneath the playground structure and a curious look on her face.
I watch the scene from a few feet away, unsure what to do. The former educator in me — not to mention the mama bear — wants to tell these young, impressionable girls that this is now how we talk to other people, least of all a child who is smaller and younger than them. At the same time, I don’t feel it’s my place to tell other people’s children what to do, especially if they’re not doing anything that is an immediate danger to anyone.
It’s all new territory to me, being a mom to a child just really starting to interact with the world. I try to keep pace with understanding what it means to be a mom to a toddler becoming more of a little girl each day, slowly learning to exert her independence and express herself through words. I glance over at my husband, who is standing at the other side of the structure, his face signaling that he too is not sure what to make of this new situation.
Before I can make a decision, the moment passes. My daughter, distracted by a plastic toy car on the other side of the playground, wanders away. The older girls resume their play, quickly forgetting about their taunting game and already onto something new, their giggles reverberating off the play structure.
I walk over to my daughter and plant a kiss on her baby-soft cheek, pink and warm from sun and play and running around. My husband comes over and asks if we should have said something to those girls, and in that moment I regret that I stood by and watched this scene unfold and did nothing. My mind fast-forwards ten years and I image the tween version of this scene, of my daughter being taunted by two girls, or even being the one to do the taunting. While she is now is too young to understand and likely forgot about the incident right after it happened, there is going to be a time in her life when these moments will not be erased so easily. Nor will I likely be there to be able to protect her.
They say that parenting is hard work, and I agree. Although to me it isn’t in the day-to-day. It’s not in the sleepless nights, the diaper blowouts, singing the same song for the 20th time that day, trying to decipher toddler speak and figure out if yes actually means yes, or even in the tantrums.
It’s in the feelings.
It’s in the intense mixture of love, pride, amazement and worry that swims through my head and my heart each and every day, feelings so strong sometimes that they catch my breath and literally make me cry fat, silent tears. It’s the knowing that she’s growing fast – too fast –- and I feel time slipping away, and it scares me. It’s the worry that one day she’ll leave me and move far, far away or not want to speak to me ever again. It’s the sadness that she should want to leave me one day. It’s the fear of something happening to her, a fear that trumps any fear I have ever had and that could easily consume me if I allowed it. It’s the desire to protect her from the world, to want to shield her from all things bad and mean and dark, while knowing I can’t realistically do that.
The feelings. To me, that is hardest thing about being a parent, but I wouldn’t trade the intensity of them if it meant not having this amazing little person in my life.
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