Last week Rachel Marie got her first real boo-boo. It was also the first time in my mothering life when I saw my child really bleed. She fell and nicked her forehead on the sharp point of a piece of furniture. I ran to her and when I saw a trail of blood trickling down her face, I yelped.
I scooped my baby into my arms. I’d been talking to my husband on the phone, but I dropped it when I saw all the blood. I could hear a tinny voice coming through the speaker, asking what happened. I regained my composure, picked up the phone, and calmly told him Rae had hit her head, and blood was running down her face. Daddy turned doctor instructed me to put pressure on the wound. I did as I was told and wiped the blood from her face. I examined the cut, which proved to be quite small and put a cold cloth on the knot that was already forming on her head.
Rae clung to my body, and I felt her muscles tense against me. She didn’t cry for long. There was no more blood. I knew she was going to be okay, but I couldn’t stop trembling. My daughter had her hurt herself under my watch. She trusted me to keep her safe, but I’d watched her fall, as if in slow motion, and had been powerless to prevent her head from hitting the furniture, to keep her from bleeding.
The truth hit me about as hard as her head hit the point: We are all born into a world of pain and suffering, and every day I’m learning just how little I can do to protect my children.
As little ones, I can nurse them, comfort their cries, kiss their boo-boos, embrace them when they crawl into my arms. Later on I can listen to them vent when they are the victims of wrongdoings. I can try to ease their heartaches. I can pray for them.
But I won’t always be able to make the hurt go away.
As I shushed Baby Rae and held her close, I began to recognize that this was the source of my terror. It wasn’t the blood. It wasn’t the bruise on her head. It wasn’t the “what ifs” that were suspended in my mind (what if it had been her eye that had hit the sharp corner instead of her forehead?). It was the cold, hard fact that my vigilance, my love for my children won’t always be enough.
Earlier that same day, I had to watch Madeline endure several shots for scheduled vaccinations at her 4-year checkup. The same kind of helplessness I felt when Rae hit her head consumed me.
Yet, I was comforted, at least a little, knowing that this pain had a purpose.
I have to remind myself that most of the struggles my children will endure – not a boo-boo on the head necessarily (though sometimes boo-boos help to teach daredevil toddlers to be more cautious, or so we moms hope), but other hurts life will inflict upon them – are a lot like those vaccinations: They may sting at first and maybe even throb for a long time, but they do have a greater purpose. There is healing and redemption and personal growth in suffering. I have to believe that. I have to put my faith in the mystery and the beauty of the cross.
I just sometimes wish I could be the one to suffer instead of my kids. I actually told Madeline I’d gladly take her shots for her if I could as we waited for the nurse to come in to administer the shots.
“Why?” she asked.
“So they wouldn’t have to hurt you.”
“You can, if you want,” she said softly.
“Oh, I can’t, Sweet Pea, because they wouldn’t help you then.”
And so I took the role of the helpless bystander because this is what was best for my child. I held my scared little girl. I kissed away her tears. I put on a brave face and so did she. And we somehow pulled through together, just as Rae survived her head wound and was back to her giggling self in no time.
My kids relied on me in their weakness, and I was somehow able to make them strong. My love has proved to be enough for now. But when and if it’s someday not, God give me the strength to stand at the foot of my children’s crosses and to release them into Your care and to have faith that there’s life and even joy beyond the pain.