Five-year-old Priscilla would like to go around the block on her bike, alone. In fact, she assures me, she wants this more than anything she has ever wanted before. Holding my gaze, she begs for an affirmative answer from me, her mother, now clenching the fate of an anxious daughter in her hands. But once she turns that corner, I can no longer see her, my Priscilla, who up until this afternoon was contented with living under my feet, my wings, and my field of vision. The severity of my indecision highlights an inability to adjust to the needs of my young children, brazenly seeking out their independence. Her request opens doors I’d just assume keep locked a little longer.
For a moment I am transported to the future, to a time when those same pleading eyes will pierce my gut with a request for the car keys, an out of state college application, or an internship in Paris for the summer. For a second, I am bewildered by her current desire to ride that hot pink bike around the world. “What about the craters,” I worry, “and cracks in the sidewalk, or the cars not watching their speed? What about the unleashed dogs, the landmines, and the hypodermic needles aimed at her slender arms, her veins light blue and innocent, as innocent as a newborn baby?” My baby, Priscilla, still believes that the world is good.
When I think back on my own enchanted childhood, barefoot and bold with unrestraint, I am warmed by memories of neighborhood jaunts, sunburned noses, and secrets shared with giggles over Popsicles, cold and sweet. But I also squirm with disbelief at the foolishness of some of my choices. “It’s a different era now,” I claim, but maybe it’s only me that changed while shedding waning youth like dried out skin.
What good is love if it’s all bunched up and wrinkled in my pocket? I believe that love should breathe and grow with freedom. I believe that being terrified will discourage my love from spreading like a blanket, offering warmth and relief from the coldness and grittiness of evil. “Be wise my little ones, but be not afraid to step out and seize the moments fresh and fleeting. Be aware of, but not inhibited by affliction. Be strong, be brave, be conscious of the sorrows and the joys of being vulnerable, and then love with open hands and open hearts!”
“Please mamma, I can do this. I know how to get back to home!” Priscilla states her case with authentic fervor. That burrowing gaze is fierce but her sucking thumb, still wet and rosy, betrays the stoic courage now presented. Priscilla needs my confidence, in her, in me, and in that bike’s ability to maneuver around the dangers, on a sidewalk I cannot see from where I’m standing. “O.K.,” I say, “start pedaling,” as I hold my breath and wait for her return.
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