No, it’s not a post about me, I swear. This is my daughter Avery’s favorite current word, and it’s her shorthand for “I’ll do it myself.” Avery is an exceptionally independent little girl. I wasn’t entirely prepared for that. Her easygoing brother was quite happy to be waited on hand and foot, thank you very much. Not Avery. She wants control, in a big way. She wants everything to be her way, her choice. And naturally, if it must be done, Avery wants to be the one doing it. Getting dressed, pointing out where the Cheerios are (just in case I’d forgotten, you know), getting her own spoon, climbing into her high chair (which she will also attempt to do even if the tray is already in place, blocking her climb; it isn’t pretty)…. She wants to brush her own teeth, her own hair. You get the idea. I accommodate her independent streak whenever possible, even when it makes a task take three times longer to do than if I had done it. I know it’s part of her process, and I appreciate that. Well, most of the time.
Sometimes, though, her desire to control her environment becomes a problem. The night before last, she climbed over the child gate between our bedroom and the living room. She managed it well enough, but it’s possible that future attempts might end less smoothly. This morning on the way out the door to music class, she didn’t wait on the porch like she usually does. Instead she kept going, stepping off the porch, running down the sidewalk and continuing her run straight into the street. A car was coming. I moved pretty quickly, but she’d caught me off-guard. She usually stands behind me when I lock the door, so I wasn’t ready to sprint after her. She was halfway down the sidewalk before I realized she’d left the porch. It was terrifying – a word I now realize I might overuse – but this was the real deal. Horror movie-level panic, and there’s a reason I don’t go to horror movies. My eyes and nose are burning as I type this. It happened seven hours ago, and I’m still not okay.
She made it past our car and into the street before I caught her. A car was coming, and somehow they saw her early enough that they slowed in plenty of time. There were no shrieking brakes to underline my nightmare… God knows I didn’t need any. I made it to the street just as she reached the other side of our car – in time to realize the car was already slowing – but I still grabbed her upper arm hard enough to leave a mark. Panic doesn’t subside that easily, as it turns out. I knew the car was slowing in time, but I couldn’t stop freaking out. I still haven’t stopped freaking out.
As a parent, my number one job is to keep my children safe. Nothing is more important. I was distracted this morning. We had an overbooked day and were already running behind because Avery pooped in her diaper just before we were set to leave the house. I was so irritated with her… I kept asking her why she hadn’t told me she had to go (duh, because I just turned two, Mommy, and this potty training thing isn’t a perfect process). I was frustrated because we were going to be late to music class and stressed out because there were four things scheduled in a row, so I already knew she’d be missing her nap. It was a rough, frustrating start, so who knows where my head was when I was locking up the house. Clearly not on Avery, who was sprinting down the sidewalk. She always waits for me. Except today, when she didn’t.
Avery is fine. She had no idea what my problem was, and when I screamed that she could have been hurt, her helpful response was “Band-Aid?” She has no concept of what could have happened, but of course I do, and it’s been making me sick all day. The image of her running into the street keeps playing in my head, over and over. It’s awful. I’ve had my hand locked to her wrist or had her in my arms every moment we were outside since, but it hasn’t erased my fear. I love my willful, independent daughter, but I hadn’t thought about how her desire to do everything “myself” could become a gigantic problem instead of merely an annoyance, until today.
I assume I will eventually lose this sick feeling in my stomach, and that I won’t have the movie of this experience on constant repeat in my mind. But the lesson was learned, and it’s not going anywhere. I will never again trust that she will stay by my side just because she always has, or because her brother always did. She thinks she needs to keep doing everything “myself,” and as her parent I need to keep allowing her to do that, within limits. Her safety is my number one priority. Not getting to class on time, not focusing on the day’s schedule. Nothing matters except that she survives another day to drive me crazy. And she will drive me crazy, because it’s in her job description, and she’s damned good at it.
Thank you, God, for keeping my daughter safe this morning, in spite of her, and in spite of me. Thank you for sending us a driver who wasn’t speeding, and who was actually paying attention. I am so incredibly grateful.