Safety Schmafety

So…a couple days ago I was logging on to Facebook with my morning coffee in hand (c’mon, you do it too),  and the top two posts on my page were as follows:

Danger on the Playground: Riding the Slide with Your To…Yahoo!: When your toddler is clamoring to ride down the big-kid slide at the playground, most parents assume that the safes… “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”- Helen Keller

And somewhere between snorting coffee out my nose and and shielding the computer from said snorting I had quite the realization.

But first, a confession:

I have always been a nervous mother. I wish that wasn’t the case.  To be clear, I’m also a loving, funny, tender, smart, creative, and dedicated mother. The nervousness though, it gets extreme and has long been one thing I wish I… wasn’t.  I know there is another way to be because I see it in my amazing girlfriends that, to my eyes, live their motherhood with the peacefulness that eludes me.

I can see danger lurking in everything, from sky to gravel, nothing escapes my wary eye.  For that to not seem quite so odd, you should know that part of my internal make-up was sculpted by having a brother that was killed in a awful collision between his bike and a reckless driver’s truck when he was 10 and I was days from that first teenage year. It was bad and I’m not going to go into it much here, but presumably my uber-nervousness has some roots in that experience.  For example, in the infinite wisdom only a newly 13 year-old can have, I soon adopted the mantra of making sure that all my energy and attention went into preventing bad things from ever happening again to the people I love.

‘Cause THAT’S a healthy goal.

It is now decades later and while my ability to find countless things to worry about can be burdensome to me, it has at least provided wonderful fodder for my husband over the years. Here is a photo that my amused spouse took of me as we left the hospital with our firstborn son in tow. Actively driving away from what to me was a wonderfully sterile environment stocked to the brim with trained professionals and high-tech machinery that buzzed and beeped signals of his health and steadiness for me round-the-clock:

That’s how you know you married the right man. He finds your neuroses funny instead of traumatizing. Provides perspective.

Fast forward to more recent history and let’s take this loving-and-obviously-completely-normal mother I’ve just described and drop her, with her young children, into the middle of a developing South American country for a decisively extended stay. Away from beautiful guiding girlfriends, any plastic resembling a BPA-free mold, and the familiar sterile environments stocked to the brim with trained professionals and high-tech machinery for those health traumas that require (for me) beeping reassurance.

If you are doing a white-knuckled grip on your chair right now, you are one of my kindred spirits.

If you are laughing at the foibles foreshadowed, you are one of my girlfriends.

If you are doing both, you’re my mother. Or a close relative. Hard to say.

Whoever you are, you probably already know that we have all had (and by “we” I mostly mean “Luke”) some serious scares here in our life along the equator. Horrible falls, monkey bites, malaria threats, parasites, painful and mysterious red welts, hyper-extended knees, theft, countless near-collisions on the roads, cuts, scrapes, sunburns –you name it. In fact, if it was something I feared before we came here, it’s happened.

Had Luke’s fall down the stairs in Ayampe occurred in the States, you couldn’t have gotten me to the emergency room fast enough.  Remote as we were though, a doctor, let alone an emergency room, wasn’t even an option. We just handled it as best we could and thankfully he healed. We then agreed to stop in towns only large enough for at least one medical clinic. In any case, somewhere along that list of maladies above I began to suspect one simple possibility:

It is absolutely, categorically, undeniably, IMPOSSIBLE for me to make all of South America perfectly safe.

Most of you were probably already aware of that, but I assure you, it was news to me.

I hadn’t realized how protected from ourselves we are in the United States (and how much that fed my compulsions) until we brought our family to live here. The playgrounds in Ecuador are, by American standards, shockingly unsafe. They are also, by anyone’s standards, vastly more fun. What’s not to love about thread-bare zip lines careening your child over the grazing body of an unattended and untethered stallion? In this life, seat-belts are as rare as unicorns and pedestrian crosswalks as adhered to as stop signs — which is to say not at all. It is not uncommon to see an infant in the lap of a driver passing a taxi that is loaded to the gills while another young child walks their goats home along the same road.

Suffice it to say, there is not time in my day for me to “find things to worry about”. This truth has forced me to force my children to become more aware for themselves. I cannot be their only eyes and ears and gauge, there are simply too many things coming from too many directions at too many speeds. I can’t pad every corner or plug every socket or geld every stallion. Ummm…okay, anyway…here’s the coffee snorting revelation:

Even if I could, I wouldn’t.

Yes, it was disconcerting for Luke to be bitten by a monkey in the Amazon Jungle. But he was warned not to stick his fingers at them like that, and he probably won’t make that mistake again. Plus, the scar and (slightly exaggerated) story will likely come in handy over his teenage years. He is now learning to control his body and take more responsibility for the consequences of throwing himself into the air above what is absolutely not the rubber-padded surface of his old American haunts. On the flip side, Vaughn’s slightly more timid nature is benefiting from the lack of people-afraid-of-getting-sued-saftey-codes as well. He is taking in his new environment with a keen eye and actively choosing to test his strength and endurance in ways and situations he would never have had to grow in back home. In short, they are thriving in the freedom they have here to flex both their muscles and their wits as they navigate this landscape. They are building strength in an oft-touted but rarely used muscle known as Common Sense. And they are having Amazing Adventures in the process. And I am letting them.

I am still a sometimes-nervous mother, but more days than not, I am a brave one as well.

That first ‘Don’t Slide with your Children or Risk Breaking their Legs’ story would have made me physically ill not 5 months ago. I’m not proud of that, but it’s absolutely true. Reading it now- it started the whole choking on my coffee episode and then elicited a puzzled shake of my head as to why it was even written. I much more related to the words that came next, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” from Helen Keller. There are a lot of things I want for my sons, safety is one sure- but “nothing” doesn’t even make the list. So I entwine my fingers with my husbands steadier grip, try to match his smile out on the world, and let go.

I am a loving, funny, tender, smart, creative, brave, and dedicated mother who is much less nervous than I once was.



Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Safety Schmafety

  1. YaYa

    Happy Mother’s Day to my marvelous and amazing daughter! Stay Calm and Mother On!

  2. Poppy

    Good for you Jamie. Happy Mothers Day dear daughter. Love Dad

  3. Desse

    Laughing because I have been there…Caused by moving from the safety of Dallas, Tx. (not at all as safe as I once thought!) to the mts. of Colorado and hiking/skiing up and down mountain trails with my 3 little girls who were certainly going to fall off that mountain. They made it and are now worrying about their own children…The oldest just actually graduated from college… safely. Brenda is now expecting # 1 so the cycle starts all over again… “Why pray when you can worry?”
    Happy Mother’s Day! Love, Desse

    • Ha! What are you saying Desse – the worry cycle repeats???! 🙂 Just as well I guess. Don’t know what I’d do with all that free time anyway…
      Love you and hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day as well!

  4. You know that I can relate, ha! I thought that I was making progress with my over-protective mother bear syndrome by allowing them to climb trees in Idaho, but Ecuador is a different beast. Tall trees seem to be one of the safest things they can play on around here. To paraphrase Dory though: ‘If you never let anything happen to them, then nothing will ever happen to them!’

    Happy Mother’s Day and thanks for putting into words what I so often think. 🙂

    • Thanks for the reinforcement that I”m not crazy to be a bit bowled over by the set-up around here. 🙂 LOVE that quote from Dory. Will be using it regularly when my thoughts still get out of control at night. Hugs.

  5. Meg

    And there is the “neuroses” post. 🙂 This is big for you, Jamie! What neat things you all are learning…

  6. Abby Kunes

    That was so great Jamie! You sure know how to put a smile on our faces. Happy Mothers Day—you are all those things and more. When I was in Costa Rica (as an adult) I went on this river boat ride and the guide told me to go to the front of the boat as he was getting close to the monkeys in the bamboo. This monkey came charging down that shoot and leaped at me with his big teeth exposed. I screamed and jumped backwards so fast I didn’t even look to see where I was going!!!!. It scared the crap out of me. That guide had the biggest laugh–I was set up for sure. Those monkeys can be mean and unpredictable for sure. This experience will be priceless! Love ya

    • Ah Abby, you are the best. Just picturing you jumping away from a monkey cracked me up and then made me wish I could hear you crack up as you have the best laugh in the world. Love you!

  7. Lindsay

    I am ashamed to say I was giggling at the exact moment you said I would be. I guess that’s why I’m your girlfriend! I’m so proud of you. Abby and I were talking today about how you need to write a book. We love you how you write!

    • Yes you are! Loved talking with you today and I promise to change the names of all you “innocents” should I ever write that book… 😉

  8. Sylvia Morrison

    Jamie you are priceless. The picture of you coming home from the hospital was the face of all of us faced with leaving the hospital for the first time knowing we should not have been trusted to take home that priceless baby. I grew up with my kids so I was pretty premissive. Until Matthew, it never occured to me that anything really bad could happen. They pretty well knew that I would roar in if anyone threatened them but I wanted them to enjoy everything they could. I marvel at how well they all turned out since I did nearly everything wrong except love them with a passion beyond measure, the same as I love all you grand kids and great grandkids! Happy Mother’s Day – my children all out did themselves making mine special!
    Love and Kisses,
    Grandma Jody

    • Ah Grandma, I’m so sorry I missed the timeline for Skypeing with you on Mother’s Day- glad to hear it was a great one! I missed the whole “indestructible” phase that I think most go through because of exactly what you just said, after Matt, I knew that bodies, even young healthy ones, can break beyond repair. That’s not something you ever un-know. How fortunate I was to be surrounded with all that “love beyond measure” from our whole tribe. We are all lucky to have had that I think. Much Love to You. 🙂 xoxo

  9. Anne

    I love that photo of you drinking the wine and reading with the boys on the table with knives?? Based on that post, I’d say that was reaaaaallllly hard to take. lol By the way, you are a great writer.

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