There was an article in the newspaper the other day about 31 year old Stanford graduate student who fell 300 feet to her death while descending a peak in Yosemite without ropes. For some reason, that story has been on my mind. Maybe because the student was an Asian girl. Maybe because Jeff used to rock climb. Or maybe because I spend so much of my day these days ensuring that our little guy does not fall.
When he's not strapped in a high chair or a stroller, T spends most of his day pulling himself up. On whatever is nearby. The couch, the Learn & Groove Music Table, the laundry basket. He's on a campaign to explore the world, and I religiously follow him around, my arms extended in a wide circle around his torso, my flabby thighs poised to pad his fall. Sometimes, after I feed him on the couch, he slides off of my lap, scampers across the couch, and flops himself on the arm rest. He pulls himself up by his little arms, reaches across the precipice between the couch and the adjacent arm chair, and tries to hoist himself across. In those moments, the gap between the sofa and the arm chair appear as vast and deep as the Niagara, and I swoop in to gather him in my arms and land him safely on his play mat.
This routine continues throughout the day. Each time I put him on the changing table, he reaches above to feel the crib slats. He soon rolls over and attempts to stand as he wavers on the giving foam. In the evenings, after I bathe him, I lay him on his back on the futon to re-read Sesame Beginnings or Sandra Boynton's Going to Bed for the fiftieth time. Impatiently, he rolls over onto his belly and scurries across the mattress. He quickly reaches the edge and looks over the cliff of the wooden frame. He bends over just slightly before my hands shift his balance back to the safety of the bed.
I think of the mother of that young woman who must have spent her days over 30 years ago as I do now. Bracing for her every fall. Guarding her against possible bruises and scrapes to be had. Landing her on the safety of solid ground. And how she had succeeded each time. And how that matters so little now.
Becoming a parent has been an introduction to a new level of fear. At least once a day, I have images of catastrophe flash before me, him falling over, head first, onto the hard wooden floor, injury to his delicate little neck. I want to hold him all day long so that he cannot fall and bang that precious little head.
The article included a quote from a friend who hoped that this young woman would inspire others to live to their fullest. As a mother, I don't see any of that. Instead, I see a life cut short, an ending that didn't need to be. A life that could have continued to be lived - in whichever form.
I think about the dare devils among us, and I wonder if their urge to scale the highest peak stems from something in their childhoods. The urge to feel the freedom they had as children to roam to their heart's content, to revel in the comfort of knowing that there is always someone near to save us. If only we could live like that.
I want to instill a healthy respect for fear in our little T. Not a life lived in fear, but a reminder that we never free ourselves from the laws of nature. That fear sometimes serves a purpose. I don't know how you teach that, and I don't know if I will succeed. But I hope a speck of this fear I now have goes with him when I am no longer shadowing him.