"And then I tripped."
The moment the word "trip" left my mouth, I burst into tears. I had been holding my emotions in all day, trying to stay calm for my daughter. But as I recounted that day's events to the nurse I couldn't do it for a second longer. I tripped, my daughter hit her head and now I was at the ER with a scared toddler.
I had watched my daughter trip hundreds of times. Whenever it happened I didn't make a big deal out of it, helped her up, and gave her a hug. But usually she didn't need a hug. My daughter has always been an active child who loves to test limits. I have encouraged this, even when it means she trips and scrapes her knees more than other kids. I was a shy kid who was afraid of so many things. My fear inhibited me from truly experiencing my childhood. That's why I want my daughter to climb trees and play sports without being nervous about getting a couple of battle scars.
My friends always remark with amazement about how I am able to let my daughter run free at the playground. I always sit on a bench and let her explore on her own. Strangers come up to me and compliment my daughter's independent spirit. Whenever this happens, I give myself an internal high-five. I feel like I am doing a good job of raising a strong girl who isn't afraid of tripping.
On a recent trip to visit my daughter's godparents, I was telling them you have to let your kids have some freedom. Your kid is going to get hurt at some point in their childhood. They're going to break a bone. Someone is going to make fun of them at school. It's a part of growing up.
Two years of parenting had made me over-confident. I was ready for anything my wild toddler was ready to throw in my face.
But then it happened. I was the one who tripped, and I realized how unprepared I was to be the one hitting the pavement and causing the pain.
We were hiking and having a great time. It was a beautiful California day and my daughter had finally gotten over her jet lag. We had just arrived at her favorite part on the trail; a stable with horses and a goat. She ran ahead of me and started climbing the fence because she wanted to pet the ponies.
She didn't want to get down from the fence so I started counting to ten. She was still on the fence trying to climb to the top so I picked her up and said we were going home for a time out. Then it happened; she kicked me hard in the stomach and I tripped on a rock. My daughter hit her head but this time, it wasn't because she tripped. It was because I tripped.
As I walked home, I started to beat myself up. How could I have tripped? I have been parenting her wrong her whole life! I shouldn't have encouraged her to be so strong-willed! How could I cause pain to the person I love the most?
On the way to the hospital, I told my friends what a bad mom I was and how I couldn't believe I had tripped. We would never go hiking again and I would never forgive myself.
That's when my friends reminded me of what I had told them earlier about how kids get hurt. It's part of growing up. I agreed with my previous statements but this was different. Moms aren't supposed to trip. Moms are the ones who comfort kids when they trip. Moms are perfect.
But I wasn't perfect and I had tripped, so I was a bad mom. My friends couldn't take it anymore and argued that I was not a bad mom. A bad mom wouldn't care if she tripped and hurt her kid in the process. She wouldn't even be around enough to trip while holding her kid. They argued that I was a good mom because I was there for my daughter and when you are always present as a parent sometimes you trip and hurt your kid. It's inevitable.
I knew they were right but I couldn't shake my guilt. That's why when I told the nurse what had happened, I burst into tears. When she was done examining my daughter, she started to lead us to a different room. Then she pulled me aside and started whispering. It was hard to hear what she was saying, but it was something about how she had put her newborn daughter in the car seat incorrectly. Her baby ended up hitting her head and it took her years to forgive herself. Then, as if nothing had happened, she led me to a sterile hospital room.
Luckily, my daughter is fine and suffered only a minor concussion. But our brief hospital visit changed me. Many parents saw me crying and came up to me to share similar stories. Every time a new person came up to me, they whispered and acted as if they were confessing their deepest secrets. I could tell it made them feel better and it made me feel better to know I'm not the only parent with imperfections.
As parents, we are often told that when our kids trip, we shouldn't make a big deal out of it and move on. We don't get mad at our kids for tripping because all kids trip. Then why is it so hard to give ourselves the same lenience? Parents are human and sometimes we trip. It doesn't mean we are bad parents. It's just part of being a parent.
Now my new goal as a parent is to move on when I make a mistake. Sometimes, even parents trip. My daughter is growing up too fast for me to waste time with negative feelings. So whenever I start to beat myself up about tripping, I'll pick myself up, move on and then tickle my little wiggle worm until she gives me her magic grin that melts all my sadness away.