Sunday, June 1, 2014

Letting My Little Bear Play

A year or two before I had Lucas, a polar bear at the local zoo had a baby. (A polar bear baby. Just so we're clear.) When we visited the zoo after the bear cub was old enough to be out in the main enclosure, everyone was crowding around the viewing window to see him playing with a giant ball in the pool. As the cub played, his mother just paced next to the water. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; never more than a few feet away from her baby, her eyes never leaving him. Occasionally she would let out a little warning growl - whether to her baby or as a reminder to the crowds to stay away, I'm not sure. While her little cub swam carefree in the water, she was the picture of unwavering maternal attention. At the time, I thought it was adorable. So sweet. So motherly. So full of adoration and maternal instinct.

Now, I identify way too much with that mamma polar bear. And I know that what I was witnessing was not cute. It was not sweet. It was a mom freaking the heck out about the millions of dangers that her little one was being exposed to. Where was the life guard? The life jacket? Why was there no sunscreen available? How deep was the pool, was it warm enough, and when was the last time it was cleaned? Did that kid just sneeze in the direction of her cub without covering his mouth??

My son is two, and almost every day (sometimes every hour) I have to fight the very real urge to be that mom. The mom who sprays a can of Lysol ahead of her as she walks through Walmart with her child. The mom who freaks out because her son waved a kind-of-sharp-looking piece of toast near his eye. The mom who puts a winter hat on her child 11 months out of the year. The mom who (this is true) was planning to have the backyard jungle gym that came with our house torn down because the slide was too steep.

Before I became a mom, I didn't even know that "mama bear" was in me, and now I spend much of my time trying to shush her. "It's good that he's learning to be more independent," I tell her in a soothing voice. "Even if he skins his knee, he's going to be fine. I promise, nobody ever died of hypothermia in 67 degree weather."

Yesterday I took Lucas to an art and music festival. A group called The Wanna Bees (great band for kids, by the way) was playing on stage, and they were encouraging the kids to dance and jump along with the music. At first, Lucas stayed on my lap.
Yes, he has a mustache. Instead of a regular face-painting booth, they had a free mustache booth.
Lucas kept calling it his "mustard."
Then he stood in front of me, watching the band and the other kids. And then he made his way out to the grassy area by the stage where a few of the kids were jumping and dancing along with the performers. Although he was in a safe, enclosed space, he was farther away from me than he has ever been in public before. And I had to quiet my inner polar bear mom more than once: at the sight of him so far away from me for the first time, when the little girl dancing with him accidentally knocked him over and fell on top of him, and then when he knocked them both over again. I suppressed my very strong urge to hover two feet away from him (maybe growling occasionally) and instead sat on the grass and watched him play. He would glance over at me every minute or so, smile and wave, and I would smile my biggest smile and wave back. And then my little boy - who sometimes won't go to people he's known his whole life without repeated urgings and me holding his hand - did something that surprised me. One of the performers asked if some of the kids wanted to come up on stage, and Lucas walked right up there.

As silly as it might sound, I felt so proud of him. And maybe a little teary (dang pregnancy hormones.) He stood up there calmly and clapped his hands at all the right times (ok, so he was supposed to be pretending to hammer, but he's two. It's close enough.)

It made me glad that I'd silenced my inner mama bear long enough to let my little cub be brave and have a fun new experience. It even made the temper tantrum that he threw when he had to come down worth it... almost. So in the future, I'm going to make a more concerted effort to back off ever so slightly while my son explores his world. I even agreed to keep the slide (see? I'm growing.)

But if you ever run into me at the zoo and you see me exchange a long look with one of the polar bears, don't be surprised. It's just that we have this kind of unspoken connection. She totally gets me.

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  1. I should probably allow Mamma Bear to talk a little more, lol. I love the analogy to the Polar Bear and her cub.

  2. looks like you had a fun day! Sometimes its hard to let the inner mama bear go!

  3. Aw! What a great post! My inner polar bear doesn't come out often, but when she does she means BUSINESS! haha

  4. Oh my gosh, I loved this lol. You made me laugh several times at the things you worry about because I have the same worries too so I can totally relate. ESPECIALLY when a kid sneezes in the general direction of my child lol, it takes all I have not to swoop them up and run. That's awesome that you were able to sit still on the grass and let him wander up onto the stage! It's hard letting them go bit by bit as they grow up.

  5. Why is that so? We mother's are always afraid when it comes to our children...I've never seen a a Polar bear because I'm here in the Philippines, but at least I know now now...we have something in common.

  6. It's hard to silence that mama bear. I'm with you. I want to protect them from everything. But then I remember the quote from Finding Nemo, about not ever letting anything happen to them isn't much fun (or healthy) for them.