In my younger years, I was blissfully naïve and unaware of the evils of the world. I grew up in a small town that, aside from the typical everyone knows your business because you live in a small town, was fairly safe. My friend and I would ride our bikes for hours all over town and no one would worry. There was no reason to. Everyone knew everyone else and my mother always knew what I was up to, even if I wasn't the one to tell her.
Those were the days before I spent two years working on a master's degree in criminalistics and long before I married into the thin blue line. The good ol' days before I knew anything about the evil things some humans were capable of doing.
My final semester of graduate school I took a class in death investigation. At the time I had been toying with the idea of medical school to become a forensic pathologist. The state medical examiner was my professor and a good portion of his lectures were spent looking at photos of various victims of various crimes and discussing the sort of evidence he recovered and how he determined cause of death and manner of death. Near the end of the course, which I had thoroughly enjoyed it was time to discuss child abuse. There is a big difference between the death of an adult and that of a child.
Somewhere in the middle of the lecture he flashed a photo of a two year old little boy with bright blue eyes and wild blonde curls. He was a beautiful child, if you didn't notice the angry bruises all over his skin. The mother's boyfriend had apparently not had any tolerance for active little boys.
In that moment I knew that I could never be a medical examiner. Even as I sit here I can still see that beautiful little angel as clearly as if I were still looking at that photo.
I guess it goes without saying that little boy has stayed with me my whole adult life. Every time I send my boys to school or summer camp or when we were looking for daycare all those years ago, I would think of how that little boy and his mother trusted the man that hurt him.
As a police wife I think I know a little too much about the things that go bump in the night. When I see a car pulled over by a police car, I think drugs or guns not speeding ticket- like the rest of the world. My mind automatically thinks the worst of everyone and everything in every situation. Sending my eleven year old into the men's restroom because he is just too old to go into the ladies room with me any more scares me to death. Having them out of my sight at Wal-Mart sends me into a panic and trusting them to ride a water slide at the small, local waterpark gave me heart palpitations as I stood watching and waiting for them to shoot out the end of the tube. Of course they were fine in every one of those situations.
My eleven year old craves freedom and independence. As a mother I know I have to give it to him but I really do not want to. I want to hold him- and his brother- close and protect them from the evils of the world. If I could have my way, neither one of them would ever leave the house without me within arms reach. Of course, that is neither logical nor possible. Especially if I want them to grow into sane, productive members of society. I have to give them freedom to explore and independence to make their way in the world. I can only hope that their father and I have prepared them enough to understand good choices from bad and good people from evil. It doesn't hurt that we put them through years of martial arts training for a little stranger danger fear and self defense skills.
I am not ashamed to admit that I struggle with overprotection. I own this behavior fully. In this day and age I think it is a good thing to be a little cautious. My good friends, the ones who know me best accept this about me and have, on more than one occasion, talked me down off the overprotection ledge. It doesn't stop me from having mini panic attacks in private but it allows my sons to grow and have as much of a normal life as they can without mom following them everywhere they go. Short of putting them in a bubble like that one in that old John Travolta movie, I accept that I can not protect my children from everything. I'm not sure they could design a bubble that would contain my little one anyway... I am certain he would find a way to pop it and escape into the world. He can't be contained, even by my shelter of over protection.
As their mother I will always worry for them. Lately I have taken some big steps in allowing them to gain independence and as painful as it has been for me, I have also taken great pride in the way they have accepted this freedom. At the water park yesterday, they remembered to check in after every three rides and to reapply their sunscreen regularly. I managed to relax and enjoy some time with a friend. We returned home tanned and tired and safe...and bubble free.