Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
— Elizabeth Stone
The collision seemed to happen — as these things always do — in excruciatingly slow motion. In a burst of reckless speed, a sudden swerve and then the sickening impact.
The “thwack!” of flesh as my daughter, aged nine and weighing only slightly more than a puff of air, was thrown back by the impact.
Her entire body folding with the force as she bounced onto the turf, arms and legs akimbo, blond ponytail askew.
What had stopped her, mid-stride, was a soccer opponent. He was also a child, albeit one tall and stocky enough to appear nearly grown.
So often these days when we size up the other team’s players, I want to demand some identification or proof of age. For many of them it seems a driver’s license would do.
You run into this when your child hits a certain age. While “most” babies and “most” toddlers and even “most” preschoolers are of a somewhat comparable height, somewhere around nine or 10, children shoot off in all directions size-wise.
(Note: I say “most” and not “all” here so please don’t write me on behalf of your nephew who was 6′ 4″ in kindergarten).
Some children are tall and some are small. Some are husky while others are slight. Some still so frail as to appear not yet fully formed. Others appear to have facial hair.
My baby had just been mowed down by one of the “driver’s license and facial hair” types. There was the interminable moment when she lay there, motionless.
I froze, acutely aware of head injuries and dislocated — or broken — bones. I would say my heart was in my throat but that would be a lie. My heart was lying prone and still on the field.
And then, in a flurry of blessed activity, she was pulled to her feet and stood, wobbly. She waved weakly in my direction, tested her footing and appearing to find nothing broken, trotted down the field.
She was back in the game as people around me smiled and gave thumbs-up, “She’s tough!”
You hear so much about those first weeks — that first year when you have a baby. People just can’t get enough of telling you all about the myriad of ways you will be hung out to dry by your newborn.
There is a certain hazing ritual in informing new parents of the sleepless nights, the crying and the insecurity (yours).
Later, you will thrill to tales of the “terrible twos” and the lumps, bumps and bruises to both the knees and the ego along the path from infancy to preschool.
All of this wisdom imparted as if the necessary milestones of a healthy childhood all take place within reach of your hands.
It is somehow never understood — until it is too late — that to teach them to walk is to give them the power to run. They run further away from your care. They take risks — and spills — with wild abandon.
It is a fine line between enjoying life with your kids and having them relive your life for you. I never cross that line because, if truth be told, I’m the first to admit that my daughter was far cooler — and tougher — than I when she hit about two.
She is her father’s child — genetically at least. She brims with a sparkle — and a confidence — I could only have dreamt of at her age. Heck, at 20.
Who am I kidding here? She is the first to laugh and quick to forgive. She shakes off slights and rarely complains. And, as that soccer game aptly demonstrated, when she gets knocked down, she bounces back up.
As a mother, I hope she maintains that equanimity always. Even as I pray she isn’t routinely knocked down by life — or boys three times her size.
To have a child is to forever have your heart walking around outside your body all right. It’s also having your heart bumped, bruised and kicked around from time to time as well.
Checking her later for bumps (none), bruises (a couple) and her overall take on the situation, I was heartened to find her the same sunny sprite she’s always been.
“I’m fine!,” she said. “It was fun!,” she assured me.
She’s old enough to empathize with the feelings of others, so I told her the theory of the hearts of mothers being their children and of hearts walking around outside their bodies.
She smiled, as always, and then said cheerily, “I am your heart on an adventure!”
That she is. Indeed.