It was not long after the sun had settled behind the mangroves across the water that the sounds of darkness began. Mullet fish jumped, the fire popped to life and the bugs synonymous with these warm Florida nights buzzed, changing pitch as they passed by. From under the trees, behind the bushes, snapping twigs and crunching leaves joined the chorus. Bold and deliberate, something else was moving at the edge of our campsite. And it was carrying a flashlight.
“Daddy, can I go for a walk by myself?”
For most children, I think, there is a lot of grey area between fear and daring. Sometimes their audacity comes from an unawareness of consequence and sometimes their fear isn’t really fear at all in the sense that we think of it as adults. They, as are all creatures, are complex. Their minds are constantly devouring this world, so new and intricate. Their realities are always being created. Why they withdraw or dive in is really only for them to know.
As parents, we have thrust upon us this new, helpless life that we must nurture and comfort and guide. We watch them from the moment the light touches them. We try our best to interpret first cries and movements then words and actions in order to steer and liberate all at once. The balance between their dependence and individuality is confounding. And translating their thoughts into our language of reason often feels impossible. We do the best that we can.
From the moment she was born, Bug has not been an adventurer. Safely tucked into her mother’s or my arms was where she always wanted to be, so much so that she would not sleep unless she was held for the first year of her life. She was loudly unwelcoming to any man other than me and new environments were not ripe for exploration. In many ways, she was fearful from the beginning.
While her power has shown itself in other ways during her short life, this fear has always been a difficult thing to see, as I’m sure it has been for her to feel. Many moments have been spent trying to understand it, wondering what we could have done to cause it. And many more considering how to help her. I have fought with my own guilt and frustration over my trepidatious daughter more than I have anything else during this parental roller coaster and, as is so often the case, there have been no easy answers.
Except one. Love.
Parenthood seems to always have far more questions than answers. There is an endless stream of strategies and ideas and methodologies and theories, but most seem to just muddy the waters. What works for one family doesn’t for another as every child – every human – is unique. Our minds dissect our difficult problems and search for what we imagine will be complicated solutions, only to unearth more problems.
What I think we often fail to realize is just how simple it can really be. We just have to allow it to be simple.
Bug is my daughter. I am her father. I love her. Everything else are details.
Well into her fifth trip around the sun now, I am starting to understand this. I have spent so much time thinking about how and why and what I should do as a father that I have clouded my vision of the big picture. The details are important in their own way for sure, but without a clear sight of the simple yet grand idea that love is the beginning and the constant in this relationship, then the details will be directionless.
Bug wandered into the darkness that night armed only with a flashlight and her burgeoning sense of self. I have wandered through the darkness of parenthood armed with little more than a relentless love for my children. As it turns out, that is all I really need to light my way.
She continues to grow and ever more boldly trod on while we, as her parents, seek to allow her to grow while guiding her, teaching her and keeping her safe. Her path will always be hers to choose, as dependent as it may be on us at this stage of her life. Fear, as it does for all of us, can so easily obstruct her progress forward and we will continue to try to help her understand and overcome that.
But, listening to her break through the bushes that night I understood that it won’t be her parents or anyone else that chooses to continue her adventures, it will be her. She walks deeper into this world now than she ever has before not because we have taught her how but because she feels safe enough within herself to do it. What we can do is to help create for her a safe place and, in the end, love is the safest place.
“The mama fly gave her daughter a big-winged hug,
And said ‘I’m so proud of you, my sweet little bug.
All I can tell you, as sure as the stars shine above,
Is no matter the problem, the answer is love.’”
(from The Wonderful Life of a Fly Who Couldn’t Fly by Bo Lozoff)