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Adventures in parenting: tales of traffic
My 13-month-old, Truman, is fast. He's been walking less than two months, but he dove into the mobility thing as if he was training for the Olympic 10-meter event. He'll dart from place to place in the blink of an eye. And I'm just not ... well, let's just say I'm not a perfect mom.
Because last weekend, I let Truman walk into traffic.
It was Sunday afternoon, and my husband was doing his one-weekend-a-month thing with the Army Reserves. I had a ton of work to do, and felt guilty for keeping the kids cooped up. So, to assuage my feelings of parental inadequacy, I let them play in the front yard while I worked on my laptop. Everett was hilariously playing man-to-man defense, making sure Truman didn't get too close to the busy street only a few feet from our little picket fence. And I was watching, I mean, I was only four or five steps away from the boys.
And then, suddenly, Everett had to pee and ran to the side of the porch (I've taught him not to drop drawers in the middle of the front yard, aren't I a good mom?). In the few seconds it took me to turn my head and see what Everett was doing, Truman ran for it. By the time I looked back at him, he had taken one step into the street.
The traffic was going slowly thanks to the lazy weekend day, and it was the middle of the afternoon. So the car headed directly at my tiny excited one-year-old had no problem stopping. But oh. my. god. You haven't known fear, shame, guilt, and abject terror until you've snatched a baby from the path of an oncoming (very slowly, but still) car.
In fact, I was keenly aware of the few cars stopping and strangers running towards him as I gathered him close. And suddenly I was the terrible parent and there was nothing I could do to show these people, watching my ultimate failing, judging my moment of carelessness. I replayed it over and over as I walked him back to the porch. I was already answering the Child Services agent's query in my head ("but he just learned how to walk! how was I to know he would make it all the way to the street?") and helping Everett get his pants back on, vowing to myself that we'd never play in the front yard again until I'd secured the perimeter with a wall worthy of East Germany, when a Volvo wagon pulled into our driveway.
The middle-aged woman in the passenger seat (it seemed as if her daughter was driving, but I was too upset to see clearly) shouted out the window something about how close my yard was to the street (oh! thank you! I'll have to take that up with my real estate agent! I thought bitterly to myself). And I wondered how anyone could think that telling me what I'd done wrong after the near-accident, was a good idea. Surely they thought I was one of the friendly neighborhood meth heads, tweaking while I let my children run wild in the streets (but really, the only drug I've had today is caffeine! I wanted to assure them). I muttered, "I know!" and shot them looks of caring, concern, and reproach.
All the rest of the day (which we spent fortressed in our house, with all the front locks secured, just for good measure) I couldn't shake the feeling of bad mama. Later I tied Truman tightly in one of my many handmade baby carriers (good mamas make baby carriers by hand, right? good mamas wear their babies while walking to get organic veggies, right?) and walked to the nearby Trader Joe's. Everywhere in the evening light, people watched me benevolently, smiling widely at my adorable child and (I'm sure) thinking what a cute pair we made.
And I felt like a fraud, a charlatan, a humbug. I'm not a good mama! I wanted to yell. I let my child walk into traffic! And I pulled the straps of the carrier even tighter, and squeezed Truman close to me, and wailed inside.