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That Beautiful Fear

In our house we have a running joke: Daddy allows Annabel to do "scary things" (jump from the high diving board without water wings, scooter fast down hills, stand on his shoulders, and the list goes on...), and they say to me, "Mummy, don't watch."
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"Making the decision to have a child -- it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body."
- Elizabeth Stone

Somebody sent this quote to me after my first baby was born, and oh! -- how true it is. Since the day she came into our lives I have know fear -- real, bone-chilling, heart jolting fear that takes my breath away -- on a daily basis, and I think it's been one of the most challenging things about motherhood.

That baby has grown into a bubbly, fun-loving, joyful little soul. She is also utterly fearless. This fearlessness made my heart swell with pride when at 10 months old she got up and ran from one side of our living room to the other. That pride quickly turned to utter terror when I realized that this was it now. She had figured out how to run, and she was never going to stop.

Cut to a few days ago. She and her little friends were climbing a wave break at the lake near our house up to a ledge which is a good three times their height. I said to her, "Annabel, that's enough. It's dangerous -- I don't want to see you climb that wall again please." To which she replied without missing a beat, "Then don't watch me Mummy."

In our house we have a running joke: Daddy allows Annabel to do "scary things" (jump from the high diving board without water wings, scooter fast down hills, stand on his shoulders, and the list goes on...), and they say to me, "Mummy, don't watch." I know he's always there to catch her and he would die before he let anything happen to her, but I turn away all the same. Because when I do watch, my heart lodges itself firmly in my throat.

Annabel is my first, my big-girl love, The One who made me a mother. It was her birth that taught me what Elizabeth Stone meant in that quote about the heart forever walking outside your body, and my world tilts on its side at the thought of so much as a scratch on her perfect little self. When I think of something happening to her (which I do -- all the time) I want to wrap her in cotton wool, stay indoors and never let any hurt near her, ever.

Thank goodness she rails against me! Imagine if she never did anything that scared me -- at 3 and a half she would still be sitting on the living room rug playing with Freddie the Firefly. It occurs to me more and more these days that if it's true we as parents are here to protect our children and teach them how to navigate their way in their world, perhaps they are here to teach us something even more important -- how to be brave.

Because Annabel inspires me with her bravery every day. Whether it's climbing a tree, running into the sea, navigating a sharp bend on her scooter or, my favorite of all, going up to play with a group of kids she doesn't know in the park; she makes me wish I were as fearless as she is -- and try a little bit harder every day to be that way.

But I'm not letting go of that beautiful fear. Oh no. That fear is my friend. It helps me love her harder, admire her more, pay attention, feel indescribable gratitude -- and keep her safe.