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My Daughter Might Fall — And I Can't Watch

Photograph by Getty Images

With baby snuggled safely in the Ergo, I trailed behind my oldest daughter, husband by my side, as she took off on her first big girl bike complete with training wheels. But when she put all her effort into pedaling that bike and stopped momentarily to ring her bell or look back at us, fear crept in.

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My daughter was ecstatic to be riding her first big kid bicycle, yet all I could see was the wobbling. Side to side she wavered as the training wheels caught her from falling over — step one to learning how to ride by herself. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was going to topple over.

I grabbed my husband’s arm in fear. I urged him to run up and hang on to the back of the bike. Over and over he told me that she would be fine. But my brain couldn’t grasp that she would survive this first bike ride around the block unscathed.

I kept going, looking down as she rounded a corner. Out of sight, out of mind, right? She was so proud of this new endeavor and I wanted to be there to support her. Until I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to stop. I turned back around and walked home with the babe while my husband kept going with big sister.

This is not the first time that my fear has caused me to shirk participation in my daughter’s life. The first time she had swim lessons, not the parent-child variety, I sat on the sidelines, unable to watch for too long. One teacher with four 3-year-olds sitting on the edge of a swimming pool, amongst several other classes going on around, well, that was too much. What if my daughter slipped in undetected? What if she fell as she tried to jump in to her swim teacher? My daughter had a blast, she told me so after each group swim lesson, but I hardly knew what occurred. I had to rely on her musings to fill me in on her experiences.

I can’t go through life avoiding their childhoods because of my fears.

The fact that I struggle to be present in my daughter’s experiences leaves me guilt ridden. It's a tough, bitter pill to swallow and it’s especially strange since I have no problem, as a working mom, sending her to school. There’s no anxiety that swells up in my gut as I send her on her way every day. Only when I’m present, watching her try something new, do the butterflies start fluttering around in my belly, paralyzing me, not allowing me to be fully present in her life.

A few weeks ago, the training wheels came off. “Mama, want to come watch me learn to ride a bike like a big girl?” I made up an excuse about needing to get dinner started. I know there will be falls and tears as she learns. Tacking something new and challenging is tough. But I just wasn’t ready to tackle my own fears of watching someone I so desperately love get hurt and scared. Not yet.

As my daughter gets older, and little sis too, I know I need to work on this fear of mine. I can’t go through life avoiding their childhoods because of my fears. I want to create memories with my children and for my children, and I know my panic will not afford these memories to come to fruition. I don’t want to just hear about my girls’ adventures, I want to join in.

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But I have a bigger fear. My oldest daughter is pretty intuitive, and I know that soon enough she’ll begin to internalize why mama isn’t there. And I want to put a stop to that. I don’t want her to become angst-ridden herself. Our children are a representation of their parents, and anxiety is not one of those traits I want to pass on to her.

So for now, I’m committed to taking a deep breath, or 10, as I jump back in to my girls’ experiences. It’s not fair to my children if I don’t. I so desperately want their memories to include me in them, and I crave to have my own recollections of their adventures cemented in my head. So off I go to experience their lives. And maybe one day my sweaty palms and panting breaths will subside as the panic in the pit of my stomach begins to be squashed. As I watch them learn and grow with all of life’s adventures — tears and scraped knees and all — we'll all be happier in the long run.

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