Just look at that happy little fellow having the time of his life cruising around the bayou, safely perched on Mama’s head. But he has no idea what his poor mother has been through.
When my oldest were very small, Tim and I watched a nature program about alligators. The filmmakers showed Mama Alligator carefully creating a nest under a tree several yards from the river. As her babies hatched out of their eggs, she gently carried each one down to the river. But here’s the problem. Each time she carried one of her hatchlings to the river, she left the others at the tree unguarded. And then, of course, when she left the river to go get more she left the babies in the river unguarded. And you can guess what happened. Darn predators.
I had never really felt that I had much in common with alligators, but just then I knew exactly how Mama felt. Trying to keep an eye on all your babies at once is not an easy feat. I remember being with a friend at the Lego store at the Mall of America when I was pregnant with my third. I was rather horrified that she, a mother of three boys, didn’t always know exactly where all of her children were.
Do I sound overly helicoptery? Probably, but up until then it really wasn’t a big deal to have a constant visual on my two. Lexie was glued to my side the first year of her life so we just followed Andrew around. But then we added a third and a fourth child, they all got more adventurous, and all bets were off. Now I mostly know where they are.
I’ve thought of Mama Alligator often through the years as I’ve dropped children at preschool for the first time or watched them ride off in a bus driven by someone else. Birthday parties, class field trips, rollercoasters, even biking off to the park are moments that require a conscious decision to let go. With after-school activities, all four can be off in different directions and, frankly, I’m just hoping I can remember where in the world they are.
I know that a life lived in fear is a life half lived and, anyway, it’s not all about me. So I let the kids do their thing. But whenever Mama Alligator and I run into each other, we nod and smile encouragingly because we know.