It’s one of the most frequent things I’ve said as a mom. Be careful with the small Legos around your baby brother. Be careful climbing that tree. Be careful riding your bike to get ice cream.
Of course, I said “be careful” a million times before Shawn died. But it felt like I said it a whole lot more after he died.
Be careful. Be careful. Be careful.
If you’re careful, then you’ll be safe. And if you’re safe, I’ll never have to worry about losing you. That was my rationale, anyway. I think it’s probably the rationale of many parents. And it’s something I know was especially true for me in early widowhood.
Back then, I wrote a lot about my fears for the kids, and about my desire for them to be safe. Merely letting Claire ride her bike around the block gave me terrible anxiety. What if something happened to her or one of her brothers? I just wanted them to be safe.
And I wanted to be safe, too.
It was an overwhelming desire in those early weeks and months of widowhood. In fact, it took over a year before I wanted anything that wasn’t safe for myself. I just wanted to go back to the life I once had, but since I couldn’t do that, I wanted to make sure everything was as safe as it could be for me and the kids.
Safety, for me, meant nothing bad could happen. Or at least that’s what I hoped.
Even as I came out of early widowhood, I still approached any personal new risks with hesitation. I pushed myself to date and travel and try new things at work, but I didn’t usually like it. And more than anything, I still wanted to protect my kids. Even when we did things, like travel together, I still said those words over and over again:
And yet, if I am honest with myself, risk has been important in my life, especially as a widow. Widowhood pushed me out of a super safe life with Shawn – one that was happy, but not risky – and into a life that felt chaotic and hard and….sometimes thrilling. Would I have taken three kids to Europe for a month on my own, had I not been without a partner? Would I have ever tried speed dating? What about all the risks I took at work and in trying to learn new skills – would that have ever been part of my life without widowhood?
Widowhood forced me to live a “not-safe” kind of life. I don’t recommend it, obviously. And at the time, I hated a lot of the challenges I faced. I struggled, as my many blog posts show.
But that risk – it made me grow.
And so as I think about Mother’s Day, and my role as a mom, I am trying to think beyond my favorite phrase, “be careful.”
As a mom, I want my three kids to be safe all the time. Safe. Safe. Safe.
But I also know there is some beauty in risk. Because that feeling I had, tears streaming down my happy face as I danced in the waves on a beach by myself? That was a good feeling. That was a strong feeling. That was an alive feeling.
Those feelings are ones I want my kids to have. Not the widowhood part, of course, and not stupid risk undertaken for no reason. But the oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-I’m-trying-this exhilaration – that’s something I hope they have many times in their lives. Which is, of course, often in direct contrast to my desire to keep them safe.
And yet, if I have learned anything over the past 4 1/2 years, it is this: life is short. And it can’t always be safe.
I know I have to tell my children to “go, jump, do!” and sometimes I’ll have to do it while covering my eyes and sending prayers to heaven because it’s the only way I can face that sort of risk.
Yes, all I have ever wanted is for them to be safe. But I want them to feel alive, too. Because that is what they are – beautifully, imperfectly, joyfully, alive.
Happy Mother’s Day.