I’m sitting. The realization surprises me. Relief and disbelief wash over me. I look around and confirm the validity of this relaxing moment. I am alone at a playground with all three of my children. They are having fun. They are all safe. And I am sitting.
Four years ago at the same playground, I turned from my then five year old for a split second and he fell from a climber and chipped his tooth. Back then, I also had a three year old and a baby. Back then, there was no sitting. There was not even looking in another direction. There was constant vigilance. My oldest son has no sense of danger. He is not cautious. He does not think before acting. Hanging over railings, walking off climbers, running in a parking lot-these are the dangers we face every day with our son who has an intellectual disability. Back then, the playground equipment seemed so high, I often avoided playgrounds all together.
Today, it’s not so high.
Heights weren’t our only worry at the playground. My son (now nine with an adult tooth replacing that chipped one) has had a long struggle with toilet training. Playgrounds have caused him over stimulation, and consequently, bathroom accidents. Changing a child, especially one who is 6, 7, 8 years old at a playground, while trying to keep his two younger siblings safe, is not easy and often not worth it. It was so hard. But today there were no accidents.
Today, it’s not so hard.
A few years ago, I watched a mom and her children walk casually through a parking lot. I longed for her life. Her children did not dart in front of cars. They did not need to be contained in a stroller. They were not in danger. For her, walking through a parking lot was not dangerous. For us, it was so risky. Today, my three walked through a parking lot effortlessly.
Today, it’s not so risky.
Being a parent is an anxiety provoking endeavor. Being anxious by nature and charged with the care of young children, particularly a child who has increased health and safety risks, led to all consuming anxiety during those early years. The world felt like a place of constant illness and danger. It felt as though I was only a step away from peril at any given moment. I was so scared.
Today, it’s not so scary.
As I watch my now 9, 7 and 4 year old climb and smile in the summer evening sun, I realize we are no longer constantly held captive by risk or difficulty or height or fear (or the need to have a second adult available in order to leave the house). We have conquered the pool, creeks, museums, restaurants and festivals. There are struggles, mine and theirs. There are safety concerns. Constant vigilance is still necessary in many instances. There are precautions that must be taken. We are still learning, but we are also doing. We are capable. It can still be hard and risky and scary and the playground equipment can still seem high.
But it’s not so high. It’s not so hard. It’s not so risky. I’m not so scared. We are stepping into the world in a way that was not possible a few years ago and for that I am truly grateful.
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