My children and I were recently at a homeschool co-op date at a park near the river where I was amazed at the curiosity in each child who stood on the bank, stepped from stone to stone, or shrieked at finding a crayfish in a shallow pool. The immense curiosity these kids had was so cool to watch! My nine-year-old crouched on a rock with a couple of other girls trying to catch minnows in a net. They were patient and, after many tries, had actually caught one! My six-year-old joined in at some point and I watched him balance on a rock with searching eyes and a determined smile. My two-year-old was much more interested in splashing out as far as she could with no fear of the powerful currents surging mere feet from where she was walking. I steered her toward a shallow inlet and after we climbed over fallen trees, stepped barefooted over not so smooth stones and stopped to look for those crayfish, she tipped a large stone on herself and another toddler.
It was amazing.
It was also not my best moment. I should have gathered up the two crying littles, carried them up onto the grassy bank and taken a few minutes to chill. Instead I ordered my crew back to the large flat stones to search for minnows with a stern, “that’s it!”. Even as I said it I knew I was crushing a bit of their wonder, and I hated myself for not being able to pull it together enough to let them explore properly on their own. I rest in knowing that they still had fun and they still count it as one of their best days this summer. I know there will be more moments of amazement in natural spaces, but I don’t know how I will manage it better next time. Proper footwear will definitely be part of my plan though!
When the water calls to you like it does to me, you don’t just want to sit on the shoreline and look, you want to tumble over stones, splash in the shallows, feel the sand under foot…You want to be completely immersed in the adventure. I want that type of experience for my kids, but I’m not sure we’re at that level yet. I think we may have a couple more years of short exploring trips in us. Until my tiny is four or five I anticipate days spent near the river, not in it. Yet I know those moments will come and I am going to do what I can to cultivate the desire for such experiences in my kids.
I know this is a dangerous world and we do have to be “constantly vigilant” (thanks to J.K. Rowling and her character Mad Eye Moody for that quote!). I make every attempt to walk the line between giving them freedom and hovering. It is a fine line and I know that on days when I send them out of puddles to save my sanity, I fall on the wrong side of it. A few days after I lost my patience at the park, two little boys from the city I live in were pulled away by the same river my kids had been playing in. It was a horrible thing to happen, one boy was safe while his brother lost his life. Could you imagine? As a mother my heart breaks for this family, the loss and grief and guilt that must be in the parent’s hearts, it overwhelms me just to think about it. Of course, the social media comments all blamed the parents for not being there, not watching their children more closely. While I wasn’t on the shoreline that day, this could very easily have been me, any one of my children could have been pulled in by the power of the river while they frolicked and I may not have been able to save them. Does this make me a bad parent? Does this make me negligent? For trying to instill a love of nature, a deeper curiosity, a desire to see the small in the vast expanse that is all of creation?
Perhaps I’ve read too many stories to my children, but I can’t help but think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn playing pirates out on Jackson’s Island, alone for days on end. Sure it’s a different time, but the river is the same…The desire to explore, the need to be self-sufficient, the urge to prove oneself runs just as deeply in modern children as it did for Tom and Huck. If parents crush the wonder their children are born with what will be left? If I only allow my kids to read about the creatures that live in the river or watch documentaries on how the currents flow, will they grow up to seek ever widening horizons? By sheltering them couldn’t I shatter their innate curiosity? I know that keeping them safe is part of my obligation, and I know that I can provide opportunities for their imaginations to be stimulated in a safe environment, but I also know that I can’t control everything.
Ultimately that is what it boils down to for me. Control. Can I tip the scales so that my desire to control my kid’s lives is outweighed enough by my desire for them to live fully in the great wide-open? This opens me up to the potential for loss, my kids may get hurt, they may develop fear, they may be taken from this world entirely. Just typing those words makes me grasp for control. Those words make me pray hard for their safety. As I sit in prayer though, I realize that it’s not up to me, there is nothing I could do to extend any of their lives. I remember babies who’ve died in their beds. I remember my brother taken between the beat of a heart. Children who were here one minute and with God the next. The control is not mine, I must release my children to the One who created them.
I’ll still keep watchful eyes over them, still send them to a safer place to play when I am overwhelmed, still pray for their safety. I’ll do all of this knowing that I can only hold them so tightly, I can do all of the things “right” and I still have no idea what will happen to them tomorrow. Better than waiting for the worst, I’ll live in today and soak up their laughter. I’ll present them with opportunities to be brave, so that when they are grown they will look back and see the experiences that grew them most were not the easy ones, but the difficult. I’ll let them explore places that make me just a bit nervous, so that when they encounter the big, scary world on their own they will have memories to pull from. And they’ll be better able to navigate. I will make every attempt to equip my children as the world-changing individuals they are, by the bold and often-intimidating choices I make with and for them today. This way of thinking, and ultimately living, scares me. Yet I can trust more fully in the One who created me and know that I (and my children) are safe in His care.