Standing isn’t something I have done much of in the last 2 years. I imagine the shock value in that opening statement is minimal – I am paralyzed after all. But the equipment does exist to make it happen. I recently was able to have a trial standing frame in our home and my boys were incredibly excited to see me vertical (my daughter had been with me on previous occasions when I tried it). However as soon as I was up, I wanted to come down. I was hit with an unexpected and unsettling feeling as I stood next to my sons for the first time in over two years. They of course thought it was “so cool” so I held my smile until the novelty wore off. They retreated to their Rubik’s Cubes and books while I was left standing there without the ability to quickly retreat into anything.
What first struck me was how small they seemed. These two boys who I have become so familiar with seeing at eye-level were, all of a sudden, little to me again. They looked up at me – up – in a way that I didn’t realize I had missed so much. But what overwhelmed me most as I stood next to them – stood taller than them – was that I was suddenly confronted with of one of my biggest fears. The fear that I cannot physically protect my children.
I think all mothers have those mama bear instincts inside of them. We grab hold of little hands when our children are walking too close to a drop-off or navigating their way through a parking lot. We jump in the water when we sense a struggle. We intervene without words – in big and small ways – to keep our children safe. But imagine being unable to come to their rescue. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of (trust me, I have them often).
I have been in numerous situations where instead of being able to simply listen to my instincts, I have to convey what I feel needs to happen to someone else. There are activities I cannot do alone with my children because it isn’t safe. I don’t let my children eat while I’m driving because I cannot get to them quickly if they are choking. I have to trust that when I leave the house with my kids, they will listen to me and respect what I am saying because I cannot run to them and scoop them up and out of harm’s way if it becomes necessary.
I can feel a lot of anxiety thinking about these situations. I try to distract myself as often as possible. I have come up with so many scenarios where either I cannot physically help my children or I become part of the problem (think a fire on the 10thfloor of a hotel). I know that we are highly unlikely to experience many of these scenarios, but it’s not easy for me to forget about them. Regardless, they all bring me back to the thought that I am not enough. But when I look past myself and I talk to other mothers and read articles that other moms are writing, it’s as though none of us think we are enough.
It seems like we will take any insecurity that we have about ourselves and manipulate it to mean that we aren’t good enough for our children. We focus on all of the things we are not instead of everything we are. We see other mother’s doing something we cannot and feel like our own children are missing out – like they deserve better. But the truth is, not a single one of us will ever be everything that our children need. Because nobody is everything.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses; our accomplishments and our epic fails. Nobody leaves the complexities of human nature behind them to reveal a perfect mother when they give birth to their first child. Yes, protection is part of the job description but losing an aspect of it forced me to really see how much more there is to motherhood and how anything can be accomplished with a little creativity. We will make mistakes (lots of mistakes) and we will not always be right where our children need us to be in the exact moment they need us there but, if we do our best with what we’ve got, keep their best interests at heart and love them more than anyone else does, then we will always be enough for them.
My children didn’t stand there next to me thinking about how much I was failing them – I put that on myself. Society is so quick to compliment a good father but it seems a mother is only recognized when she makes a mistake. When I think about my eight years as a mom, I realize I have been incredibly hard on myself. I have constantly criticized and second-guessed the way I parent and have rarely acknowledged myself for doing something right. That way of thinking has only been intensified since my injury. In this moment, I see how sad that is. My kids don’t see me any differently whether I’m standing above them or sitting beside them. It’s time I did the same.