Thursday, April 1, 2010

What moms do

Our neighbors have three large dogs, one of which behaves as though he likes to eat small children for breakfast. Bear Bear is his name. Coincidentally, we have three small children living under one roof, across the street from these dogs. A few weeks ago my nephews were playing outside in the driveway, and Bear Bear, unleashed and unattended, came over and growled with teeth bared and hackles raised at my nephew Ethan. Luckily Ethan was armed with a mighty fine stick, and was smart enough to be firm with Bear Bear and yell at him to "get back." This not being our first incident with Bear Bear coming into the yard unleashed, and having warned our neighbors several times that they need to keep him on a leash, we called the cops, and Bear Bear was taken away by the pound until our neighbor agreed to build a proper pen in which to keep their Kujo-lookalike dog. After building a pen and placing NO TRESPASSING and BEWARE OF DOG signs on every square foot of land they had, Bear Bear the dog returned to the neighborhood, and the only thing now separating his teeth from the small, tasty hands and faces of the neighborhood children is a chain-linked fence and a few warning signs the children can't read.

I had spent a lot of today in the sun (woo hoo! sun!), and consequently had a massive headache from dehydration. Before dinner we had an hour+ long seder ceremony for Passover (thanks, Mom. I know you put a lot of work into that) that didn't bode well for my throbbing head. Not only are you supposed to drink 4 glasses (in my case, sips) of wine during a seder meal, you also dip almost everything you eat in salt water. The kids had a hard time sitting still for all the Old Testament readings and eating of bitter herbs. Our Passover grew more and more chaotic as the kids lost patience and began to wander in and out of the room, hungry (bitter herbs can only fill you up so much), restless and wanting to play in the last few minutes of sunlight this beautiful day had to offer.

So after a long, LONG meal of horseshitradish and charosett, it's FINALLY quiet and I'm laying on the couch, and wait . . it's finally quiet? WTF? Who am I kidding? Where are the kids? Where's Hannah?

Truth be told, Hannah had recently discovered the invigorating feeling of opening the front door and walking out whenever she feels like it, and unbeknownst to any of the adults inside or the children outside, she felt like it. My little banana walked, barefoot and unnoticed, ACROSS the street to our neighbor's house. It took a couple minutes for me to even consider that she might be outside, because hello! She's just a baby! There's no way she'd go out there by herself. It's too scary, isn't it? . . . . ISN'T IT?!

My stomach lurched. I got up and opened the front door. "Han-nah!" I shouted. Her favorite word in the whole, wide world. The only word that could possibly bring her back to me. Silence. Then, a faint echo - much, much too far away for comfort.


In two seconds I was across the street. Bare feet. Headache gone. Scared radish-less. And there she was, dancing on her toes between NO TRESPASSING and BEWARE OF DOG. Between parked cars and Bear Bear's pen. Between Alive and Eaten.

"Doog! Wan Wan!" she said, pointing and stomping with glee.

I had no words. Nothing I could say to impress upon her how very dangerous that "doog" was, or how she was never, ever to do that again. My tongue was suddenly too big for my mouth, and the only sound I could make was this awkward mix of a choke and a laugh. I imagine it sounded something like "Heehykugarp!" I snatched her into my arms and ran across the street, pressing her sweaty little head into my chest, trying to push her back inside my body where at least she'd be safe - no Bear Bears or open doors to tempt her to destruction.

When we reached the front door of my parents' house, I finally pulled away to look at her. She was still smiling. Still gleeful. Still innocent and unaware.

"Hannah, No, No NO."

Her smile froze. She stared at my face, her eyes shiny golden-brown nuts of question and confusion.

"No, No, NO. You can't go over there. That dog is mean. It can bite you. That's ouchy. No, Hannah."

Her face crumbled with betrayal and despair, golden nutty eyes floating in pools of tears. I wanted to hold her. To cry with her and tell her it was ok, it really wasn't that big of a deal. But that's not what a good mom does, and if ever there were a time to be a good mom, this was it.

"You're going to sit in time out now. Think about it for a little while. You need to tell Mama when you want to go outside, ok? No going to see the dogs, ok?"

I sat my sad little girl down on a stool in the living room, and as I did she held her arms out to me in supplication, earnest eyes asking, begging. I turned slowly and walked out of the room, and just outside the doorway I began to cry. It was one of those mouth-gaping, chest heaving, silent cries - the kind you hope no one ever has to witness. That moment of "why?" and "how could I let this happen?" and "what if . . . " is, I think, the most earthshaking feeling a mother can have. In that moment, the need to keep yourself together, to be strong for your child, has an intimate but fierce battle with alternating terror and relief that can't help but express itself in a human who has pushed another little human into existence.

"I love you. Come here."

2 minutes of grief - with a 2-year-old that's all you get before it's time to go back in the room and repair what might have been bruised along the way. Because that's what moms do. They try their best to protect their little ones, and when they fail they work through the grief, patching up the broken pieces as they do. In the end they hope they've handled the situation wisely, with a small measure of patience and grace. In the end they hope they've found balance between innocence-preservation and self-preservation. In the end they hope they've done more good than harm. It's a fine line, but in the end, I think we do.


courtney*adele said...

oh, there's that independence you so love about her... it's just growing and branching and testing its limits! just wait until she can tell you that 'you suck' for making her sit in time-out! as tough as it is, your parents are your parents- they shouldn't always be your friend! you done good. ;)

Samantha said...

ooooh man. I feel you here. Last summer, when I was pregnant with Clive, I had Zara at the pool and we were in the kiddie pool but the deep end of it so when Z stood up it was like up to her chest. I looked away for I swear one second, and I looked back and she was underwater, folded over, struggling. You described my reaction pretty well. It was like all my insides suddenly disappeared and were replaced with black panic. It was one of the scariest things ever. I moved faster than I had in months of pregnancy and I pulled some muscles but she was fine and I have been inspired to put her in swim lessons ASAP since then. But I feel you on all this stuff.

Stephensens Rock said...

Wow Suzie!
Beautiful writing. This is how I want to write, capturing all the wickedly simple elegance of life. I love it!