There was one summer when I was probably about seven, I spent days sitting in the front seat of my dad’s pickup truck. We listened to Garth Brooks and Don Henley. At that time in my life, my dad was a contractor. He built homes along the shore of Lake Michigan and during the summers when my mom was spending time with my little brother, I hopped in the truck with my dad and our English Setter and went from job site to job site with him. During those summer days in his truck the windows were rolled down and music blared. I most likely wore pink light up shoes and sang songs at the top of my lungs. Those days I vaguely remember climbing all over the job site with my dad and inspecting things with him. Life was pretty careless at that age. Those days whether I knew it or not at the time shaped me in ways I am sure my dad may not be aware of. As parents, our shaping of our children happens both consciously and subconsciously. They see us. They are us. They perceive us. What I am learning lately though, is that if we can lift away the daily intensity of parenthood we can see, watch, and perceive our children well enough that they unknowingly can teach us more than we may ever teach them. I am sure that during those days that shaped me I somehow shaped my dad as well as well as my mom. I am sure they saw in me things they themselves needed reminding of that ultimately grew them. If we aren’t careful though, we can lose this opportunity in parenthood though. Recently, I have both needed this perspective on parenthood more than ever, but it is growing me, shaping me, and ultimately making me better once again.
When I found out I was pregnant the mom anxiety set in within an instant. I somehow lost touch with parts of my wild ways. I lost that carefree childlike perspective about the world that I feel is captured perfectly when I think back to those days in the truck as a little girl. I knew with that positive pregnancy test I was no longer my own but forever would also be someone else’s. It changed me in a way that only caring for another small life can make you feel. The feeling of wanting it all prescribed, clean, and predictable become comforting in a world of so many unknowns both in pregnancy and as a first-time mom. I went into a state of surviving the journey. The thought of the unpredictable was something that felt painful, difficult, and like something I was incapable of handling because the costs appeared or felt too high.
Everything from leaving him with someone else to making sure we made it home for bedtime to whether or not he ate enough greens that day. It all has and did feel binding and controlling of the wildness I was full of before entering this new phase of my life. At some point on that day, I knew I would be a mother, I unknowingly boxed up my desire and comfort with a wild and free life along with that memory of a little girl sitting carefree in a pickup truck on a sunny day. At some point I boxed up parts of myself I felt unable to understand and find space for in the role of being a mother. My wildness felt too unpredictable to fit in a world where I needed things to be predictable in order to both get things done and to make it through each day that was full of learning and growing at such an intense pace. Nothing in that first year felt predictable, so how could I allow my wild spirit loose enough to throw anything else into the mix?
Enter toddlerhood. A new phase of this chapter of first-time motherhood that has come slowly but with lots of trips and falls, new words, giggles, humor, frustrations, setting a lot of boundaries, and a lot of letting go. I know most parents find their children to be super in some way. It is natural to find our offspring special or unique I think. The thing for us that shocks and amazes us about Hayes is that for all that he lacks in conversational abilities he makes up for tenfold in his physical abilities. Most people see him on the playground and ask if he is 2.5 years old (he just turned 17 months). From the day he came out of the womb he wanted to leap into the world. His desire to move and be independent has been strong since the first month of him being in the world. At 3 months we had to get him in a seat he could bounce in because our arms were tired from doing it ourselves. He is strong and desires minute by minute to push every bound he can find. There is not a fear in his body. Some could just toss it up to being a boy, but as his mother I know it is beyond that, it is simply who he is. His perception of the world is there are no bounds. He sees the highest point on the playground and goes to it. He waves bye bye to me and chases behind the 4 year old up the stairs to the scariest and most extreme slide he can find. He giggles before he sits down and watches me as I tell him to take a seat. He raises his eyebrows and before I can count to three he is at the bottom laughing histerically even as he tumbles onto the ground covered in wood chips. He then picks himself up does it again and again and again until he wears himself down. The number of times my heart jumps in a day out of complete fear and how many dreams I have of the worst case happening each day is unimaginable. He is never ending and though exhausting it keeps us busy, active, and doing all the time.
It continues to amaze me as his mother to see his utter wild spirit come bubbling up more and more every day. How he sees everything as possible and the toughest route as the best one. There is no turning your head on him and I have no understanding of what it is to have a kid who does anything but climb to the edge of the couch in a blink of an eye and believe it is brilliant to just jump. It is our life as parents. Somedays I get frustrated that I cannot even do the dishes without finding him trying to climb to the top of the table. I have found myself wishing for a slower pace with him and wishing that in some way he didn’t scare me or we have a split chin in a heart beat. It is hard as a parent within your exhaustion to find calm in the storm of a wild toddler.
Then one day as I once again watched him go through his slide adventures on the playground, I looked at him and saw myself and I saw Mike. I looked in his eyes full of adventure and wildness so excited to do something a kid twice his age was doing. I saw his spirit full of adventure looking for the path that brought the most challenge but the greatest reward. I saw the same spirit in him that made Mike and I choose the paths less traveled. I saw the same spirit that made us travel at the drop of a hat, build a life that we loved, and that made us see that life should be focused on living out your passions. I saw the same wildness of myself as that young girl hair whipping in my face next to my dad and dog singing on a summer day. I saw the same wildness that embraced adventures that took me to some of the most amazing places in the world. I saw the wildness I had boxed up in order to survive the unpredictable nature of motherhood. As he stood on the edge of that slide and my anxiety of whether to leap and grab and tell him no out of my own motherly fears was nearly tangible, I instead thought how can I embrace his spirit, how can I learn from his fearlessness, what can I do to help him learn to harness this. So I stood there and said, “Come on buddy, you got this!” I let him have the adventure he desired in the same way I knew I would want. I was reminded then of parts of myself I had let my responsibilities think weren’t okay. It was in that moment, I began to unbox my wild spirit again.
It was in that moment, I began to unbox my wild spirit again that day. It is taking time, but I feel it. There is freedom in me, less anxiety with my role as a mother even in these last few days. Maybe it is knowing he is capable to do the things he wants to and even if he isn’t, he has to try because it is who he is, it is who I am as well. I look at him and know that if I don’t release my wildness there will be a disconnect in our relationship. I want him to see me wild and free. I want to be the example he needs of what it means to live out a life of wild adventures and how to harness those parts of his spirit that he was born with. I don’t want to limit him or confine him, but be an example of what it looks like to use your fearlessness in a positive and amazing way and not a harmful way.
It will always continue to amaze me how our children are both the most exhausting and trying thing in our lives, but at the same time, the most life-giving and calming parts of our day in the same breathe. He is reminding me in ways he may never know who I was as a little girl; fearless, dirty, wild, and carefree just riding in a truck with my dad going from job site to job site. He is showing me that even if along the way something tampers our wildness it doesn’t mean it isn’t still alive within us. In fact, maybe that tampering is what will make our wild spirits wiser more than less wild.