By Emma Reilly
I woke up one morning and it had happened. My baby was gone.
Seemingly overnight, he had been replaced by a mile-a-minute toddler; a whirling dervish ready to plow headfirst (often quite literally) through life.
Though he’s only 17 months old, I already miss the heady infant months when he would happily snuggle in my arms for hours on end. These days, unless he’s fighting those omnipresent daycare germs, he will barely stand still long enough for me to plant a quick kiss on his yogurt-smeared cheek.
I’ll be honest: Though there are some real joys about this stage (especially the language . . . I've never been so excited to hear someone say "UP! UP! UP!" in my life), I find parenting a toddler pretty terrifying. It only takes a split second to come this close to catastrophe.
My husband and I know this from experience. Once, while Young Sir was strapped into his highchair for lunch, I turned my back to refill his sippy cup only to find his little fingers wrapping around the handle of a sharp kitchen knife I thought I had left outside his reach.
During one particularly horrific incident several months ago, we landed in the emergency room after he took a tumble down some stairs.
He has come through these close calls unscathed. I, on the other hand, bear some mental scars. I find myself replaying those awful moments in my head, scolding myself for letting my guard down and putting my precious
baby toddler in harm’s way.
I wish there was a way I could guarantee his safety at every moment. Part of me wants to constantly hover around him, steering him away from the kid in his daycare class with a nasty biting habit or the broken pavement that may trip up his still-wobbly steps. If I could shelter him from the bruises, the injuries, and life's knocks, my Mama heart would truly be at ease.
But that's not what parenting is about, is it? Though I'm certainly not an expert, I know that at its core, motherhood is one long, joyful, process of separation. I can’t protect him at every moment. The older he gets, the more I’ll have to bite my lip—and my tongue—and let him wander farther and farther away.
Parenting a young toddler is sort of like what wrangling a drunken Tasmanian Devil must be like; you need lots of courage, a never-ending supply of energy, and your wits about you.
There will be times when, despite my best efforts, he will get hurt. As painful as these events may be, I can't stop this from happening. No child can—or should—be sheltered from every bruise and scrape.
Though I would never, ever hope that our child would land in the emergency room, our stair encounter taught us many valuable lessons (as painful as they were to learn)—one of which is that letting go will actually make him safer in the long run. We are still hyper-vigilant about the toddler/stair combo, but I stand a little farther away from him now as he clambers up and down. As much as it can make my heart pound, he needs to learn how to safely navigate those stairs on his own.
I remember reading a story once about a man who came across a butterfly trying to emerge from its cocoon. The man, watching with concern as the creature tried frantically to free itself, took out a pen knife and cut a slit through the chrysalis. But to his dismay, after the butterfly emerged, it couldn’t take flight. He later learned it’s the struggle to emerge from the cocoon that makes a butterfly’s wings strong enough to fly.
I think about this little story often. I have to remind myself that without these stumbles, he won’t learn to steady himself. If I constantly hold his hand, he will never gain his balance. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m getting better every day.
Hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to stand back, watch those excruciating, important struggles, and wait on the sidelines with open arms.
Hamilton Spectator reporter Emma Reilly would like readers to know she has never actually taken a Tasmanian Devil out for drinks, but it's probably easier than getting a toddler dressed and out the door on time.