Not For the Faint of Heart

Kavi has had some friends having tough times this year, and she’s a pretty empathetic kid, and as a result she’s had tough times, and it’s all just hard, folks. Sometimes I want to wrap my kids up in blankets and just snuggle them for a few years.

I told Kavi last night that I thought maybe we’d made a mistake letting her cross the street by herself. She asked whether I was planning to drive her everywhere. I said it didn’t always have to be driving; I could walk her to school sometimes, as long as she held my hand when we were crossing the street…

Sigh. Here’s a poem I wrote when Kavi was about three. It’s all still true. This parenting thing — it’s not for the faint of heart.

*****

Safe

Here’s the dirty secret
she told me
when my daughter

turned one.

Parents say that all they want
is for their kids to be happy
and they do want that —
but first and foremost

they want them to be safe.

It is trained into you
when they are babies
and you go to their rooms
a dozen times each night
to be sure they’re still

breathing.

It is beaten into you
when they are toddlers
and fling themselves
at every sharp object
left for a moment in reach
off every high surface
that they can climb
and you leap after
heart leaping

from your chest.

We never thought
we would be those parents
but it turns out to be inevitable

as death.

We lean in to catch at
falling, flailing limbs
and say someday
she should ride her bike

down wide, tree-lined streets.

We leave the city.

For this.

A great, green grassy park
at twilight
lit by many lampposts
framing a famous old house
turned museum.

Pleasant home.

We gave up our restaurants
for this
our crowded nightscape
drunken neighbors
and prostitutes on the corner.

Sometimes I miss those girls.

This is the ugly truth.
More than happiness,
yours or theirs,
you need them to be

safe.

We will have at least a decade here
amid the grass and trees and dogs and houses

to practice unlearning that lesson.

Because someday, safe will not be good enough.

Someday, we will need to let them
try to be happy

instead of safe.

***

Pleasant Home, Mills Park, 10/4/10

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