Being a mom has taken all the adventure out of me.
Before I had a baby (and the anxiety and control issues that come with it), heights and high dives were nothing. I’d balance walk a tree limb to rope-swing over a river and jump a 20′ cliff bank into a creek without batting an eye, swim out into an ocean’s breaking waves with a “shark come get me” bravado and periodically check in with my fitness and agility by completing running handstands off the slippery sides of lake docks, pool decks (and even once from a hay loft – that was dumb).
Any conceivable injury could possibly bring me one step closer to a quick recover that enabled a short but romantic bout of amnesia, and possibly an engagement ring from my plastic surgeon. How could that be frightening?
I’ve parasailed, snowboarded, tackled Level 5 rapids, made a busy Suez Canal crossing in the dead of night, bussed across the Sahara with heavily armed guards, foraged beggar crowded streets in Beijing for dinner from roadside stands, and slept soundly in hostel bunk rooms, ferries, and overnight rail cars, clung to the back of a motorcycle on the freeway, belly crawled through caverns, coaxed unknown horses into riding bareback (OK, I was 13 for that one), rode every roller coaster with hands in the air, drove too fast, galloped too soon, and trudged into the middle of nowhere with people I’d only just met.
I was invincible then…seeing as “invincible” is just a feeling and one of my biggest life regrets was that I hadn’t jumped out of plane.
The last time I did anything foolish, I was pregnant, several miles of trail into the woods, jumping from a protruding dive rock into a rushing creek. I missed the deep water, hurt my foot pretty bad on an underwater stone, and hormone-cried the rest of the afternoon about how stupid I was as my foot progressively worsened into several days of not being able to walk without wincing. I’ve pretty much played it safe, and safer, since.
Which means I’m perfectly content to stay home, a lot.
But yet I recently found myself crying my eyes out atop a Ferris Wheel (yes, I realize my definition of “adventurous” has been diluted into something rather tame). And now that I’ve had a chance to process it – and sleep hard and sound all night, like the baby I cried like – I think I can understand why it terrified me, maybe.
My mom and I had just arrived in Downtown Atlanta where “Free Day” at the Children’s Museum meant every man, woman, and child within a 75 mile radius was waiting outside on the hot sidewalk. We said no thanks! and kept driving until our part of the family caravan (only loosely connected now by cell phones) found ourselves under the giant Ferris wheel flanking one side of Centennial Olympic Park, just as the rest of our group arrived on the other side. I nosed into $2 an hour curb side parking not 20 feet from the SkyView entrance and thought it was destiny.
My troubles started when they ran my card and handed over two official looking tickets: “Passenger” and “Precious Cargo.” My child was cargo? All kinds of terrible things happen to cargo. What was I thinking lugging her across a steel platform to certain death?!
Then they waved me over for a souvenir photo. The others were already clambering beneath the ropes of the nearly empty waiting lines to bypass the picture taking but I succumbed to a fleeting thought that this might be our last photo here on earth and awkwardly paused on the yellow line to squint-smile into the camera with Muffin lurching from my arms toward the group.
Even if just a means to identify our bodies…it was a terrible photo (as I did live to tell).
The employees were redundantly cheerful, not a care in the world, as they did their jobs to the rhythm of upbeat music from a sound system. Did the know that if I died that day it would be because I fell…on them?
(This didn’t appear to be anywhere on their emotional radars.)
I took more pictures of our Precious Cargo while we waited to load, and sent them to BabyDaddy just in case they were his last memories of us here on precious earth. Which caused fleeting concern that he might call and pull the plug on our whole adventure followed by hope that he actually WOULD.
I stared at my phone lest I missed an “Are you out of your MIND taking our baby on that thing?!” message or a save-the-day text instructing me to stay safely on the ground, get a refund, return to the car, roll up the windows, lock the doors, buckle the baby, and drive home before rush hour. To which I may have gratefully complied…or engaged in rationalizing and defending. Either way, it’d cause me to think about something else.
No such deliverance by micro-management occurred.
I tried to get my mom to talk us out of it since she’d always steered us away from carnival rides. But she said, “Oh, THIS is no carny ride.”
No help there.
Drawn in by the momentum of the group and the employees who herded us along, I was loaded before I knew it, doors vacuumed shut, baby in lap, and dramatically face-to-face with the realization that there were no safety belts – probably because in the event of a catastrophe, they would do no earthly good.
And what happened next was only because I have become a complete safety control freak since having a baby, and up there in the air I had absolutely NO control.
(I also no longer wished to experience amnesia or marry a plastic surgeon.)
A hundred thoughts flooded my mind – A newer, and permanent, structure, not an overnight carnival pop-up, probably inspected multiple times and in rigorous compliance with City of Atlanta building codes. The employees ride all the time. Here’s an overhead emergency button (Wait! Why? Oh, probably for people who got sick). No wind or rain. No predictions of natural disasters. Quick math calculations of 250 pounds per woman and child were still below the posted 4k maximum load.
And if we fell to our deaths it would be quick and over.
As we lurched away from the platform, the car swayed and I realized we were in nothing but a cage of glass suspended in the air by thin spokes of steel. I remembered a human chandelier mishap I’d read about a few weeks earlier. Malfunction of a metal clasp. My stomach went whoosh!
I looked for a way to brace myself.
Pushing my feet up against the seat across from me, as if that would somehow lessen an impending impact, I thought I did a pretty good job of telling my mom what I thought of the situation:
So this is suddenly safe to you, huh! With a BABY! SERIOUSLY?! I told you to STOP us! S ince when was this OK!?!?!”
And then I remember this very logical gem of a statement:
If I die up here with the baby, my husband will KILL me!
I wanted to slide to the floor and hug the bench. I expected swift and sure punishment for doing something so reckless. Somebody offered to take the baby but there weren’t enough arms, the doors could malfunction and the excited children needed restraint from pressing against them.
I contemplated the panic button.
We nudged one car higher at time, suspended in our death trap, as folks in line behind us filled each subsequent car.
Then they nudged us several cars lengths at once and I. lost. it. One hundred percent terror. Fear. Panic. Hyperventilation. Embarrassing. Humiliating. Lost it.
My mom beside me, calmly nodding toward various points of interest on the city skyline, coaxed me not to miss out. Assuming it would be the very last thing I ever saw, I attempted a peek behind us at supposedly the best view of all.
I glanced at very calming sight – a car full of smiling and pointing people.
There has always been something extremely appealing about not being alone. For example, swimming as a child in our lake in South Florida, I could always uncurl my toes if others swam too. I’d say, “I want the alligators to have multiple choice.” And it was no joke; alligators were found many times in our lake. Compared to others, I always felt lucky. On my own, not so much.
I had been oblivious to the mounting terror of my niece on the bench across from me. When I looked back, she locked her flooded eyes with mine and said, “Why are YOU scared?!”
That’s when I realized, like a quickly sobered drunk, I wasn’t scared anymore. And I told her we were fine. She said, “No we’re NOT! You said so yourself!”
I told her the truth…that I thought this was one of those rides where you’re up there all alone and that was why I was crying. “But this ISN’T one of those rides! We are all close up! All together! And nothing can happen to us!”
Her tears subsided as quickly as mine had come. My mom murmured, “Nice save…” And we rode the rest of the ride in relative tranquility before moving on to a great rest of the day in the city (safely on the ground).
– – –
My cell phone rang later that night, and it was my friend (whose daughter had been along for the adventure). She wanted to know if I was OK (why wouldn’t I be?) and eventually mentioned she’d heard about my panic. Her daughter had asked, “Mommy, why did that lady keep saying over and over, ‘Why did I bring my BABY? I shouldn’t have brought my BABY!”
I nonchalantly talked about myself to my friend in the third person, “Well, you know, up in the Ferris wheel, Mrs. Control Freak had NO control.” But as I talked longer with her wise soul it became clear that control had not been stripped from me just then, leaving me exposed and vulnerable above the city of Atlanta. Truth is, I never was in control in the first place.
I safety belt my baby into every contraption imaginable, hover over an inch of bath water, vigilantly gate every doorway (uhm, we own 10 gates at the moment), drive slow and pull over for tailgaters, dice even the softest foods, shiver over crime in the city and stay safely tucked in the suburbs, research and weigh out every immunization, memorize CPR and choking charts, nod approvingly at background checked nursery workers, sleep soundly thinking an AngelCare under the mattress is actually keeping her alive, analyze statistics of one safety device over another, and when all else fails….just go with majority opinion, there’s safety in numbers, right?
But it’s all just an illusion.
I am never in control, I just think I am.
When I later talked with my mom about some of the thoughts that had led to me being such a mess up there. She listened for a minute and then nailed it, “That’s just FEAR, That’s all THAT is!”
And she doesn’t know the half (despite all the panicked phone calls she’s fielded from me in the last 18 months for a range of “issues” concerning of our completely healthy child).
When my biggest life challenge was dreaming up some dramatic scenario in which I’d meet Mr. Right, I had such a low-stakes existence that regardless of how many times felt a rush of adrenaline or halted before jumping off a cliff, I was never truly terrified.
Being a mom, so hopelessly in love with this tiny human whose fragile little life so desperately, daily, depends on me…terrifies me.
Even after growing up in a big family and always having many people to love, and losing some of them too, the stakes got much higher when Muffin came to be. They just did.
And the person who used to feel adventurous started to reign it in. Started trying harder than ever to control it all.
An enlightened friend tried to share not too long ago that fear is best described as “lack of faith in God.” I promptly replied that “Faith is MY middle name…I’ve got no fear and all kinds of faith!” It didn’t really sink in. Truth is, I have little faith, all kinds of fear…and CONTROL had been my go-to savior.
Truth is, I’ve always trusted God for the things I thought He was good at: Salvation, tornados, hurricanes, other peoples illnesses, poverty, good parking spaces, world peace, meals, and traveling mercies.
And about 18 months ago (despite fervently praying every night, including last night, “Please, please, please, Lord Jesus, watch over this baby and protect her while she sleeps!”) I somehow shifted my faith in Him protecting my baby out of the pile of things I thought He was good at. And that errant “faith” of mine was tested and found seriously lacking.
I can see I have my work cut out for me on this one.
(This work is just not going to happen on top of SkyView.)