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Other Great Acts of Parenting

by Ivy Main

I asked my kids for inspiration in writing an article in honor of Mother’s Day. Sadly, I got it.

It came at a park, where I’d decided we would work on a problem twelve-year-old Llewelyn has been having with her soccer game. She’s afraid to stop the ball with her body, out of some absurd notion she might get hurt. As it happens, I have a certificate that declares me qualified to coach soccer, and that was enough to convince both of us I could cure her of waiting for the ball to come down to her feet.

So I instructed my younger daughter to punt some soccer balls in her sister’s direction. The plan was for Llewelyn to run up to meet the ball and stop it with her body. This maneuver is called a “chest trap,” and it is often used in soccer. It should not be confused with the much more dangerous “face trap,” which is rarely used, and never on purpose. Possibly this explains why I didn’t catch on immediately when, ten minutes into our practice session, Llewelyn was standing stock still with her mouth open in a peculiar manner. Only when her face crumpled into tears did I realize that she might have a dislocated jaw.

Bad mother. Bad, bad, bad. And this was by no means the worst thing I’ve done as a mother, a point I dwelled on heavily while driving to the doctor’s office and trying to jolly up my daughter by clenching my fist and offering to “pop her one” in the jaw to realign it. (I told her that was the treatment of choice in all the cartoons and old movies, where it racked up an impressive 100 percent success rate.) Llewelyn, however, could only hold her jaw and make inarticulate sounds.

What is remarkable to me is that she still loves me. No matter how many stupid things I do, how many times I forget to do things I’ve promised, or neglect to do things I should, she has kept her faith in me, never questioning my love and my dedication to her well-being. She wears my love like a coat and carries it with her everywhere, and by doing so, forgives me.< At the pediatrician’s office, the nurse told me how, as a young mother attempting to manage both grocery bags and children, she tried to kick the car door shut behind her. When it wouldn’t shut properly she kicked it a couple more times before turning around to discover that she’d been slamming it on the hand of her daughter, who was so convulsed with pain that she could not scream.

Later I asked around for other stories. Almost every parent I talked to came up with at least one example of negligence that could have proven fatal, from the new mother who remembered about the baby gate only after the baby had tumbled down the stairs, to the experienced mom who got out of the lift line to fix her ski and looked up only just in time to keep her three-year-old from going up the mountain in a chair lift, solo.

Other friends have done stupid things with more deliberation. One of the most dedicated mothers I know told of once taking her toddler son down to a dock in a crashing thunderstorm, where she ordered him not to move while she (seven months pregnant) spent the better part of an hour in the water trying to recover a sinking motorboat.

Of course, you don’t have to be a mother to engage in stupid parenting. One man told of taking his little niece to the zoo and visiting the panda house. As he tells it, “I lifted her on my shoulders, feeling every inch the uncle. (That’s about 6’3” of uncle and possibly 20” of niece.) As we left the building through the metal-framed doorway, there was a sound like a coconut being hit by a bat, then a horrible pause, then the sound of a very unhappy child.”

And sometimes the parent’s only fault lies in her reaction to a mishap. A friend of a friend named Maureen emailed me about the time her three-year-old son started running around a coffee shop when she told him it was time to leave; eventually he bumped into the glass pastry case and started crying. Already headed for the exit, Maureen snapped, “Serves you right for not doing what Mommy told you to do.” Only then did she turn around to find blood streaming down his face.

But it’s what happened next that mattered in the end. Maureen rushed the little boy into his car seat and sped off for the doctor’s, at which point he started screaming in panic. She tried to calm him, assuming he was upset about the bleeding gash on his head. Finally he made her understand that his terror was for her life, not his: she had neglected to buckle her seatbelt.

Such is the love of a child for his mother. It is instinctive and reflexive: touch the right spot, and it surfaces even through pain and anger. This is the gift our children give us, every day of the year.

Llewelyn’s jaw is fine now, not broken or dislocated, although it was sore for days. She’ll live to suffer through more of my great ideas. And as her loving mother, I’m sure to come up with them.

Copyright 2003 – Ivy Main (originally published in the May 2003 issue of Welcome Home)