I know how fear has been a driving force in my life...how I wanted to avoid calling up any darkness by carefully guarding myself against it. I know that this hasn't served me...hasn't worked. I also know when I started to let go of my fears and open up to life, love, and motherhood with all of its terrifying possibilities. The women over at MotherTalk named today Fearless Friday in honor of a book by Arianna Huffington called, Becoming Fearless. I thought about my reckless college days, chasing down every dare I could. I remembered more recent travels over unknown highways in New Mexico with only a map in the passenger seat of my rented car keeping me company. But my fearlessness really began with motherhood...with that bittersweet realization that I didn't want to parent out of fear of what I could do wrong, but out of the possibility for the amazing ride we could take together--if I learned to let go.
My boy-o helped me with this by not fitting into the safe and secure roles of the hot house flower-children of his generation. One March, not long before his fourth birthday, my son curled up on the hardwood floor beside the glass door.
"Watching," he said.
"For what?" I asked him.
"For the sun..."
Our little nest was coated with day old snow--the most gray sky of the month hung overhead. Blooms and buds and the initial sprouting of an eager spring were subdued, in muted colors. I almost told him that the forecast said the sun wouldn't reappear for three days. But, I stopped myself. In that instant, my fear of his disappointment almost led me to chime my thoughts over his own, to assume the role of "knowledge dispenser". Suddenly I wanted him to just lie there, still, on the worn plank floor--his blue eyes scanning the trees and sky. I realized that leaving him to his own thoughts, his "watching" would teach him more than if I stumbled over his plans for sunshine with my presumptuous authority.
He was contented beneath a ragged patchwork quilt, his newly sprouting limbs curled up around themselves. He was quiet and a bird landed just on the other side of the glass. I saw him smile without even looking. With my firstborn, I surely would have sat beside her and said, "No, sweetie...you can't watch for the sun today. The weather report says it will be overcast and icy until the weekend." No doubt I would have then regaled her with the bits and pieces of meteorology I know, talking cold fronts and barometric pressure. She would have listened to me, and rightly so. Those were the facts...maybe she would have gleaned some new detail to tuck away in her mind about the weather. She could have pulled it out in school, a statistic about the jet stream and her teachers would have nodded, knowingly, at her intelligence. I would have felt a little more in control of this parenting thing, a little bit less afraid.
At every child's birthday party or school function, we over eager springtime parents spout praises about our prodigious offspring.
"Oh, he's speaking French already."
"Well, we've been doing Spanish ourselves."
"She's in art, soccer, and piano...it's never too soon, you know."
On and on and on we go...fear, fear, fear. Fear of our child's failure, of falling behind, of not being a good enough parent. We want the best, all of the best, for these little ones we so dearly love.
And yet...I let my son continue in his quest for sunlight on a dark day. I let him sit there, watching the birds skittering across the slippery ice outside. The sky covered us with drab fog, showed no signs of breaking open, clouds hanging heavy in the late winter sky. He wasn't getting the "facts" he should have been. But, something in me was breaking open and I wasn't worried or afraid for his skills and abilities. He was learning something, after all, of waiting. He was learning stillness and patience. He was observing the clowning birds perform a matinee of slips and scrapes and ruffled feathers, just for him. Instead of anxiously filling him, pouring details into his brain, I let him stitch together his own process without coating him with my mental fingerprints. I felt oddly at peace with this, I felt fearless...
In the end, I huddled down on the floor beside him and he casually shared the quilt and the space. The baby was sleeping, the eldest off at school. He relaxed his wiry body against me and I shared his silence.
"There is no sun today," he whispered.
"Oh..." I said, breathing him in. I had the sun, outgrowing my lap more each day--golden skinned, golden haired, warm blooded, fiery spirited. Instead of nervously teaching him, I held him. Instead of carefully cultivating his first thoughts, I let him grow.
"Watch, Mom," he urged, "The sun might come out soon."
His familiar arms twined around me like errant vines. His belly fluttered against the palm of my hand. He was introspective, glowing. I felt time pass through us and saw the certain sunlight in future days.
"Watch with me now," he said.
And so, wise for once...fearless in motherhood for the first time, I did.
That boy is now a seven year old dynamo, his elder sister on the verge of adolescence, and the baby nearing four herself. I continue to work to hold onto my sense of adventure as a mother, as a writer, as a woman--but I can pinpoint that moment as a pivotal one. When did you first become fearless in your life?