It was dusk. My kids, barefoot and dirty kneed, were blowing bubbles in the front yard. The bubbles twirled and bobbed in the air; the setting sun reflected rainbows off their smooth surfaces as they floated up higher and higher until they popped. When one would land on the kids' hands, they would hold them up with pride so I could give an impressed whistle. They'd laugh and smash the delicate orbs enthusiastically.Everything about the moment was mystical and beautiful. It was the type of evening that inspires people to be parents. Single people walking their dogs would smile sweetly as they enjoyed getting a glimpse into our night.
It was all perfect, but all I could think about was a troubling idea that had just occurred to me: the bubbles that my kids were enthusiastically releasing into the world were just acting as sweet, little germ fairies. As they blew, the kids would inject them with whatever bugs were festering in their system and set them off into the world to spread their bounty. Darla, with her pink eye, could've blinked the bacteria in her eye onto the surface of the bubble. As the kids laughed, they were giving their blessings to the floating germs.
I will talk a Norman Rockwell moment and suck all the whimsy out of it to render it unmagical. I will find the danger in any situation. If there's an opportunity for my kids to play on rope swings above a lake, I will block them from the experience. Think of what strange creatures might lurk in the lake, not to mention the drowning potential the lake offers. No thanks. We'll stay right here on our incredibly safe blanket. We'll sit, that is, until we see a bug crawl on it, then I'll make us run away and sit in the car for the rest of the afternoon.
I spend a lot of my time wondering what narrative I’m creating for my kids. Will they think of me as the withholding parent through their adult eyes? Or, thirty years from now, will Darla sit in her therapist’s office and cry into a soggy tissue because I took away her Friday night movie after she refused to pick up the dirty socks she left in the middle of the living room?
“My mom had so much anxiety,” she will say. “She never let me experience life."
Have I done my kids a disservice by not allowing their childhood to contain more whimsical memories like I had when I was a kid? Sure, my childhood had its fair share of horror stories, but some of the stories that came from that same childhood are amazing. My siblings and I went on trips to the grocery store with the express purpose of buying a shopping cart's worth of candy. My dad would let my sister Sarah and I ride in the bed of his truck while he drove around wildly, so we'd fly around dangerously in the back. I would hit my head on the back window and give out the deepest, joyful laugh. We were allowed to climb on top of a boulders at the edge of cliffs and dance wildly on top of them because why not tempt fate?
The minute I think about letting my kids participate in any of these scenarios, though, I immediately want to lock the doors and hide them in the closet so I can keep a hawk-eye on them at all times. I’m a much more anxiety consumed parent than my dad ever was.
As I sit on the porch and watch the kids blow bubbles, I try to make myself relax. I reason that I had made it through my childhood alive despite sometimes only having a rope as a seatbelt. If I could make it through that, the least I could do was allow my kids to blow bubbles on the porch. Let them live on the edge a little. And I'll keep the idea that those bubbles were tantamount to germ warfare to myself and just love how hard they laugh when they see one pop.