They never tell you that parenting a baby or toddler will mean injuries for the parents. After recounting my baby’s tendency to kick me in the stomach, I rhetorically asked our pediatrician, “But babies can’t really hurt you, right?” It was more an expression of disbelief than an expectation of an answer. I already knew. Yes, they could.
Babies and toddlers mean well. They really do. I’ve read that before a certain age, children don’t understand that: 1) you are not an extension of them, 2) you can feel differently than they do, and 3) they are strong enough to hurt someone. Add a young child’s fuzzy understanding of right versus wrong and it’s clear, babies and toddlers mean no harm.
At two-and-a-half-year, Flowergirl is quick to say to me, “You’re okay” after she bonks my head or pokes my eye. I try to explain to her that I am the one who determines whether or not I’m okay, just like she’s the one who determines whether or not she is okay. She responds by placing her hands on my cheeks, looking at me with her big brown eyes and repeating, “You’re okay.” Like a magic spell, her sweet gaze often makes me feel okay even if I wasn’t that way before.
Most parental injuries are minor. Others can be more serious, or in some cases, odd enough to be educational. For example, a foot fallen onto sideways can hurt for well over a year. A kick to the back can hurt for about a month. Being in the unlucky trajectory of a thrown item can require weeks of recovery. Not to mention the bites one receives while baby is teething.
I consider myself to be in solidarity with good mama cats. Kittens crawl all over their mama, and the mama cat nobly endures. She is patient and tolerant to the kitten stepping on her forehead to tumble over the other side. She understands their innocent exploration and her role in it. We are safe havens to our children, and safe havens sometimes receive the brunt of new explorations. One day kittens will behave like cats. My children will grow up. If as adults they discover the effect of their youthful explorations, they would probably be both surprised at what they did and reassured by our patient, steadfast love for them. Babies and toddlers (and kittens) do the best they can with the understandings available to them. With the insight of years, they undoubtedly would do things differently.
Someday my children might say the same about the mistakes I’ve undoubtedly made while parenting them. Mistakes I might not recognize as such until I gain the wise insight of years. I hope I will remember my children’s kittenish exploration of their new world, and recognize that I was exploring parenthood as a new world in a similar, bumbling way. From Future’s perch of hindsight, I might wish I had done things differently, but truly, I’m doing the best I can. Perhaps once again we will all gently cradle each other’s heads, gaze sweetly and lovingly say “You’re okay.”
Kat Lehmann believes we are all in the process of becoming and have a choice in what we become. She is a scientist who writes prose poetry about parenting and nature, and can be found sneaking outside to look at the moon when not keeping up with her children Sunboy and Flowergirl. You can connect with her at http://www.nurturingandnature.