Last weekend I was with my friend Brianne who has two daughters, a three year old and one year old.
We were watching the girls run in and out of a playhouse designed with one of those barn style doors that allows you to swing shut the bottom and then the top. A process which the toddlers did repeatedly with delight. I stood nearby and cringed with fear each time the door halves would bounce against the frame. In my mind it was only a matter of time before some tiny finger was severed.
This might be an irrational fear for the average person, but reasonable if you had chopped your sisters finger off in a door, something I did about fifteen years ago.
Hearing your sister scream and having to hunt for a tiny pinky on the linoleum floor is a gripping memory. Luckily, the hospital was close and they were able to sew her all back together. It was not an event one forgets easily.
My cringing brought me to recall the memory to my friend. Brianne is a mother, she is kind, strong, compassionate and ever attentive to danger when it comes to her kids; I know Brianne is a good mother but I wanted her to prove it by stepping in and demanding the fun was over, or at least bolting the doors open so her two little ones would have less painful experiences while they enjoyed the playhouse.
I took safety into my own hands and decided to close the door and slide the bolt into place, a temporary solution because we could not realistically keep them in or out of the playhouse (its bad form to lock kids in a box).
More than I like to admit fear is a director in my life, controlling my movements with precision and analysis. A master manipulator, fear talks me out of adventure with the threat of too much money or not enough support. Fear is tricky in its lies muddled with truth. A chopped finger should make me cautious, but it shouldn’t keep me away from experience.
It’s easy to forget fear can be healthy, it keeps us from stepping into traffic or walking alone in dark alleyways. Fear has helped me walk away from dating partners who didn’t have my best interest in mind and cautioned me against eating raw chicken.
Fear can only control me when I give it the power to do so.
Brianne knew my story and could agree chopping your sisters finger off is a good reason to stop slamming doors, but she taught me it is not a good reason to quit using them.
I wanted her to protect her girls from the potential of pain and injury, but this is an unrealistic goal for a mom and also for me. All the doors cannot be removed or bolted open, people like doors, they keep out the cold and protect us from seeing into public bathrooms (a greatly admired quality).
Eventually there was a tiny finger smashed in between the halves of the door, tears sprouted quickly into the eyes of the injured toddler and Brianne in all of her motherly watchfulness scooped her child up and consoled her with tenderness. No limbs lost, just the pain and shock of a new experience.
Brianne didn’t limit their adventures but she did guide them though.
This is the type of woman I want to be, both like mother and child, observant, present in my relationships and a shelter of comfort when needed, but also curious and excited about the discovery and possibility of new adventure.
I want to control how fear impacts my adventures and not the other way around.
If that adventure is in a relationship, I want fear to help me to avoid a partner with an anger issue but not keep me from dating all together. If the adventure is with my faith, I want fear to keep me from becoming impassive and lethargic but also not hold me back from exploring possibilities of God outside of my limited perspective. And if the adventure is planning a trip to Iceland or traveling the Trans-Siberian Railway, I want fear to teach me not to wave money around or take drugs from strangers but I don’t want to allow fear the power to keep me in my hotel room.
Brianne is a good mother because she knows the difference between controlling fear and allowing it to control you. It’s a lesson worth learning.