I’ll never forget my very first Mama Roar—how it erupted spontaneously from deep within me (my loins, perhaps?) before I even had a moment to process and filter what emerged.
My firstborn, Q, who was just barely one, was on her maiden voyage at the mall play area. The fantastical space was breakfast-themed: populated with a huge fried egg (complete with a fun bouncy yolk), a banana to slide down, and a wavy piece of bacon to navigate. Q and I had sat and watched the kids there several times before, but that February day, after almost two months of practicing her walking skills, she was ready to join the fun.
I watched from a bench along the perimeter as Q bravely toddled into the fray of darting and screeching preschoolers. The term “helicopter parent” hadn’t yet been coined, but I had already determined I wouldn’t be one. If Q needed my reassurance or help, I would be close by. As I watched her bravely move farther away from me, her diaper-bum adorably donned in navy-and-lime-striped leggings, I mentally congratulated myself, randomly taking credit (as new parents do) for the fearlessness of my little girl.
Suddenly, BAM! A burly (at least relative to Q) preschooler ran by, deliberately shoving Q flat on her face. I jumped up, my heart pounding, then saw that Q was stunned, but not crying. She stood up, looking around her to gain her bearings, then started again to toddle toward her original destination: an enormous waffle topped with a pillow-sized pat of butter. I took a deep breath, commending myself for my restraint, before noticing that same boy was making another round through the oversized breakfast fare.
BAM! Down Q went again. And Mama Bear leapt into action. In a bound I was at Q’s side, picking her up in a protective hug. Then, as the boy sped back in our direction I reached out and grabbed his arm, stopping him in mid-flight.
“YOU. Need. To. SLOW. DOWN.” I uttered as he squirmed against my grip. “There are very small children here—you’re going to hurt someone!”
Where is this boy’s parent? I wondered as I released my grip, looking around to see the mom or dad who would be surely walking toward us to offer an apology. What I saw instead was a woman who couldn’t bother to stand up, calling to me, “Is there a problem?” When I walked over to tell her that her son had deliberately knocked down my toddler twice, she laughed, saying, “Boys will be boys.”
“Only if you let them,” I seethed, turning away to buckle a stunned Q into her stroller and roll her back to the safety of our den.
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Indignation was no stranger to me. Even as a kid, I had an aptitude for speaking my mind, especially when faced with an injustice of some sort (whether real or conflated by my teenage brain). In high school, I was famous for pointing out to teachers why a “wrong” test answer was technically also right, and why those of us who had been marked down should get credit. More often than not, voicing my logic paid off. When my brother left for college, and I suddenly was called on to do the dishes every evening rather than every other evening, I argued it wasn’t my fault that I was born second and had no younger sibling to share the work with. (In this case, my argument fell flat.)
But even acting on a full range of indignation over the years did not prepare me for becoming a Mama Bear. Those pre-parent experiences had been merely exercises in logic and persuasion—hypothetical practice for the debate team I was never on. This—this was different. It was not a cunning game. It was the waking of a beast that had been hibernating within me, feeding on the hormones released by pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. By the time Q and I visited the play area at the mall that winter day, the beast was well-rested and fattened, ready to bare her teeth.
As my two daughters have grown, I’ve become accustomed to my Mama Bear sidekick; sadly, we’ve had plenty of experiences that have called for her services. But knowing how and when to tame her has been an ever-changing challenge that shifts with each setting and stage my daughters go through. When do they really need me to intervene—to demonstrate the importance and art of standing up for beliefs and rights, and especially for others? And when do they need to learn about disappointment and the “life-isn’t-fair” state of the world? When should they be left to decide for themselves if an injustice is real or perceived? When do I need to advocate—ideally with much grace—and when should I demonstrate how to retreat with grace?
Because Mama Bear isn’t necessarily rational. She doesn’t always see the big picture. What Mama Bear does see, with laser vision, is the child. She sees the child for who she is—both the strengths and weaknesses, the abundance of potential that’s inevitably tinged with fear of how the world might respond. And the Mama Bear loves the child so much that she can’t help but ache for that child’s best. It’s a love that emerges from her very being, coursing through every vein and seeping from every pore.
In fact, if you could infuse that Mama-Bear-love with a whole lot of grace and a much longer view, it just might be a taste of the love God has for his children. With that in mind, I’ve decided to start thinking of the Serenity Prayer as the Mama Bear prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
(Grrrrrr…I mean, Amen.)
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(The Mama Bear and cub photo used above is by xinem.)