In summers past, we would spend hours at Van’s Skate Park, with him going faster and higher in a progression of larger half-pipes. I sat in the catwalk above the park, holding my breath and chanting like a monk for him to be safe, all the while cheering and giving a thumbs-up whenever he looked my way. He would start rolling down a deep slope, and my mind would imagine fifty ways he could come off the board and which bones would break. (It didn’t help that I saw at least three broken bones happen to other kids during our time there!) Then he would jump over a barricade as he came up and off the top, while I zoomed in with the camera and prayed so hard and fast that I’m sure God thought I was speaking in tongues. Then as soon as he landed without skull fractures or spinal injuries, I would cheer and say “WooHoo!” out loud as my mind shouted, “Thank you, Lord!!” When he asked, “How was that?” I would cheerfully reply, “Great! You got really good air on that one!” as my mind silently screeched, “OH MY GOD! You were so high up in the air! If you had fallen it would have broken your back or bashed your skull! Don’t ever do that again!” Most parents would drop their kids at skate camp and leave for the day. I was terrified that if I left, when I returned there would be ambulances and cops and he would already be unconscious after asking for me with his last breath. I never shared with him my reasoning for staying, telling him instead that it was easier than driving all the way home and back. Luckily, he wasn’t old enough yet to be completely weirded out that his mom was skulking around in the catwalk like a vulture. The one day I did convince myself to leave and join a friend for brunch, I returned to the catwalk after a couple of hours and could not find him anywhere below. My mind raced with scenarios. Someone had kidnapped him. Someone had lured him into the restroom. He had come looking for me and gotten lost. He was unconscious somewhere in the park that I couldn’t see. Finally I saw him sitting by the drink machines downstairs. I raced down and tried to be nonchalant. “What’s wrong? You thirsty? You tired? You okay?” I admonished myself mentally for leaving. What if he had gotten ill? I left him no money for a drink. What if he had needed me? He looked back at me completely unbothered and casually said, “I fell on my back really hard and blacked out so they made me sit out here for a while.” EGAD!!! My worst fear come true! I had abandoned my baby at his time of need! (Okay, so he was 10 at the time and not a baby, but the neurotic mommy-mind does not distinguish such things!) “Oh God! Are you alright? You blacked out? You hit your back? You had your helmet on, right? Are you okay? What did they say? Did someone find you right away? How long were you out?” He looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted tentacles and started speaking Klingon or some other galactic language. He stood and walked away from me, a bit nervously now that I look back on it, and went back through the gate at the skate park, saying over his shoulder, “I’m fine. They just told me to sit down. I’m going back to skate! Bye Mom!” It’s a tightrope, people. I don’t want to freak him out. I don’t want to make him scared to live, or scared to get hurt, or scared to take chances. But I want him safe. I try to balance my neurosis with my desire for him to live fully. I try to keep it in check. I’m there with a helmet and some safety precautions, but I try really hard not to let him see the panic in my mind as I encourage him and praise his efforts. And I even try to push myself to have adventures alongside him whenever possible.
I took him zip-lining in Alaska. I took him swimming with sting rays in the Bahamas. I have taken him on every major roller-coaster in Central Florida, even though Sheikra makes me pray loudly enough that the other riders think they are at a revival. He went indoor skydiving. He got his scuba-diving certification. He learned to weld. He hung upside down from a roof to paint a house. Lately, his interest is inventions with electricity. He created a handheld taser and flame-thrower in an Altoids can. I love that! I want to encourage his mind and nurture it, feed it, allow it to achieve all it can. But I don’t want the house to burn down, and I want him to have all his limbs and senses intact. As I asked him to explain to me how the flamethrower was NOT going to blow up in his hand, he got exasperated and looked at me like I was a neurotic, panicked mother. I realized I was too far on one side of the tightrope, but I also realized that in order to balance, I need to know he is safe. So I explained to him that I am the mom God gave him. And I am a bit neurotic. And I worry too much. And I sometimes blow things out of proportion in an effort to be safe. And God knew all that when He gave him me for a mom! So I told him I figured that must be part of the plan. God gave him intelligence, curiosity, courage, bravery, talents, and hutzpah. But then God sent someone to keep him in check and help him be safe. So he patiently answered my questions and even drew me a diagram to explain how it was impossible for it to blow up. So I will keep encouraging him to dare, and I will keep trying to provide him with opportunities to take risks and have breath-taking moments. And I will try to do that with a smile on my face, a thumbs-up, and the words, “Go faster! Go higher! Try harder! You can do it!” But I will also ask questions and take precautions, and of course, freak out in my mind. And I'm okay with that.