“Can we go to the forest park, mama?”
It is bigger than most of the parks in our area and as well as the stock-standard, primary coloured jumble of plastic play equipment it has a large, grassy hill (perfect for rolling down) and, at the bottom of the hill, the most wonderful thick grove of trees. These are tall, imposing trees with trunks you cannot stretch your arms around that have stood sentinel over this place for generations and it is these beautiful, majestic trees that first inspired my 4 year old to christen this playground, ‘The Forest Park.’
The trees provide cool, hiding spaces out of the hot sun of summer and their subtle darkness is perfect fodder for the imaginative stories woven by my small girl and her friends, stories featuring the tiny fairies who accompany her everywhere, transported in an old, wicker basket. On one occasion they fly together from tree to tree. On another, they work industriously to create a miniature party wonderland just right for tiny, magical creatures on the carpet of leaves beneath the trees.
I hear the distant tinkle of laughter and see a flash of brightest pink as they run through the trees. Their voices calling to each other drift further and further away until I can see them no more from my perch on the top of the hill. My heart beats just a touch faster as they seconds pass and they still do not reappear. The rational part of my inner being attempts to shush my racing mind,
“They are together, flying beneath the trees.”
“They know not to go near the road on the other side.”
“I would hear them if they called out in alarm.”
The seconds pass as I peer into the distance hoping to spy pink but seeing only many, muted shades of green. I call but, although I can just hear their distant voices, there is no response. It has only been a minute, surely less than two, or has it? My anxious mind plays tricks on me and time appears to race. I call again and start to make my way down the hill, eyes scanning.
I try to give her space to explore, to know the joy of adventuring with friends but so often this freedom strains against every fibre or my protective, parenting instinct. I want her to be strong and confident and I know that she needs space and trust to develop independence. But every day I grapple with the question of how much is enough? What is safe at this age and stage? How much space? How do I let go of that which is most precious in the world to me?
My rational mind knows that my job as a parent includes equipping her with the necessary skills and behaviours to keep herself safe. I know I need to trust her and her choices as she learns to step boldly out into the world. I know that little by little, as the days and years pass, I need to learn to let her go.
But right now, in this moment, it seems the hardest thing in the world that I will ever have to do.
As I reach the bottom of the hill, I exhale in relief as I see them come running joyfully towards me. As I knew they would be, they are safe.
Raising kids is awesome. There is little more rewarding in the world than the love of a small human.