Can't Protect Them From Much

Katie Nolan, the mother of Francie Nolan, in the Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, said it best after hearing about her 16 year old daughter's first heartbreak:
Katie heard the story. "It's come at last," she thought, "the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache. When there wasn't enough food in the house you pretended that you weren't hungry so they could have more. In the cold of a winter's night you got up and put your blanket on their bed so they wouldn't be cold. You'd kill anyone who tried to harm them--I tried my best to kill that man in the hallway. Then one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you'd give your life to spare them."
We can't protect them from much, really, if you think about it. We can talk till we are blue in the face (which seems to be my current strategy) but when it comes right down to it, these kids will go out into the world and make their own way. All we can do is feed them and keep them warm, and talk till we're blue in the face, and then we wait. And hope. And pray. And watch. And seek sweet revenge on anyone who harms them. After the fact though, because we probably won't be there when the actual harm is done.

That passage from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was one of my favorites. I have enough food to feed my family, even if they don't like what I serve. We are warm enough in the winter, even if they claim that their father and I have ice for blood and don't understand what the heater is for. I am not raising my children in the kind of poverty that Katie Nolan had to raise her children in. But Katie and I, both mommies, share that protective instinct and the sure knowledge that it will take us, and our children, only so far.

Which, if you think about it, is totally unfair. There is no other realm in which all of a person's hardwork and devotion and sleep deprivation, all of person's planning and preparing and striving delivers absolutely ZERO guarantees that everything will work out. NOT FAIR.

On the other hand, it's probably fairly well documented that the absence of all of the above will pretty much guarantee that nothing will work out.

So I guess I will keep fighting the good fight. I will continue to feed them, and clothe them, and give them lectures about sticking with things that are hard, standing up for the underdog, trying your best at everything you do, learning from your mistakes, staying true to yourself in the face of pressure, and about anything else I can think of...

...and someday, I will know that the time has come, the time when I can no longer stand between them and heartache.


No wonder no one ever tells expectant parents the real truth.

* * *


Kristin said…
The heartache has sorta happened a couple of times for our eldest, but you've set up a reminder that it could be much worse; and I am grateful for how good it's been thus far. I'm not going to dwell on negative things that may happen though. I'm going to live in the present with them now. That is so vague, but do you get me?
Sandy said…
Your last line has the absolute ring of sincerity and truth!
They wouldn't believe us if we did tell them, anyway. And I love that passage from A Tree also; that, and when Katie's mother explains why the children need to believe in the Kris Kringle, even though they will discover the truth someday...

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