When you give birth you are overcome with an amazing, unprecedented feeling of love and devotion to your perfect little bundle of joy. This might not happen straight away (it's different for all Mamas) but eventually, through the sleepless nights and the pain of breastfeeding and the soothing of colic, it arrives and you realise, whilst you naively thought you loved someone before you had children, you really had no friggin' clue! It's primal and bloody strong.
Problem is, hand in hand with that love comes a gut-wrenching, paralysing fear that one day, somewhere, somehow, something might happen to your little darling that will cause them harm and it will be completely out of your control. It literally is like having your heart walk around outside your body and the mere thought of anything causing them pain is enough to make you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them safe and warm within the confines of your own house and garden. For life!
But you don't. You raise them up and you take them out and about and eventually you attempt small amounts of independence and freedom where you try, try, try to quell the anxiety as you watch them head off to nursery without you, climb aboard a coach for their first school trip, hell even playing in the park is a test for your nerves. But you know it's 'good for them' to explore this big, wide world without their Mama holding their hand / breathing down their neck / making all the decisions for them so you arm them with the rules, the tips, the tricks. You pray to whatever or whomever you can think of at the time and you try desperately to balance the art of free-range parenting with your instinctive desire to be within arms' reach of them at all times.
And on the whole, when you let them go, even if it's just for a moment, they have an amazing time and come running back, all excited to tell you what they've learned. They may have a screeved knee or a bruised ego, but that's the small price you pay for independence, kiddo!
Yesterday, some of our Kindergarten class visited Attingham Park in Shropshire. Altogether we were six mamas and eleven children, we set up camp at one end of the playing field and settled down to enjoy our day. Everyone had brought a picnic, the bigger kids were allowed a bit more freedom, the two smallest members were pootling around nearby collecting dandelions and harassing small insects. It was lovely.
After lunch, Boy asked if he could go down the far end of the field to where there are some underground tunnels and a fort. The older boys were already down there, he was heading off with six others, I said yes. I knew I could see him from where we were sat, and whilst I couldn't intervene quickly if an altercation started, I knew I could make down there pretty quickly if I were needed... off he skipped.
And for 40-50mins this was fine. I spent my time chatting to the other mamas, helping Toddler on the slide, eyeballing him every time he popped up on the top of the mound, playing a great little game with his friends. One by one, they all trickled back for drinks or snacks or for a rest...and Boy didn't. I could still see him, he was still playing happily, I had no reason to worry about him...until he disappeared from view.
'That's fine', I thought, 'he's in the tunnels and in a minute I'll be able to see him again...' Nothing.
'That's fine', I thought, 'he's crouching down in the fort on top playing with pebbles...' Nothing.
I handed Toddler over to Posh Mama and headed off down the field and already I knew, already I could feel my heart quickening and my throat tightening. I couldn't see my child, I hadn't seen my child in a few minutes and I wasn't happy. Sure enough, when I got there, he was gone.
Within minutes, I had three school mums patrolling the edges of the field and there was a man on a walkie-talkie radio'ing the main house for assistance. I gave them a description, I kept my cool, I constantly scanned the busy playing field, I reminded myself repeatedly that people are good and kind and that he would be back in a second, any second now he'd be back...
Just as I was realising that I needed to ring Husband, Posh Mama shouted. There he was, absolutely fine, not lost at all, just on an adventure in the woods. He had moved from the tunnels over to a huge tree trunk that children clamber all over, had climbed up and over the top and was in the woods digging a hole with some other children he had made friends with. He was totally unfazed.
And to a certain extent that's exactly how it should be, I suppose. He had had a great time, made new friends, was headed back to me because he'd realised he was thirsty, hadn't been scared or lost or panicked at any point and had a lot to tell me about his exciting foray into the woods. I have (somewhat inadvertently and entirely by fluke, might I add) created a child who is confident and adventurous, who doesn't hold back in fear.
This Mama, on the other hand, is a nervous wreck who just wanted to a) throw up and b) take him home. For life!
Back at home, safe and sound.
I find motherhood so hard. I don't want my child to be weighed down with the angst I carry, about strangers and paedophiles and bullies and God knows what else. I want him to live in a world where he can go and dig a hole in the woods for a few minutes and then skip happily back to tell me all about it. Apparently, we need to keep hammering home those ground rules though, hopefully next time he'll tell Mama where he's going first!!