“Is that a boy baby or a girl baby in there?” a pig-tailed girl peddled next to my stroller.

“It’s a girl baby,” I smiled.

“Good! Because boys are ugly,” the girl who looked around 7 years old sped down the hill in giggles.

I watched in amazement as she rounded the corner and down the gravel road of the campground. How would I ever trust Annika to ride a bike…alone… in a campground full of people I don’t know? My mind wandered as I committed to instilling a love for less dangerous activities in Annika… like… knitting.

Next I stopped by the playground to let Annika swing a bit before bed.

“I sleep in that camper over there!” the sweet little girl on the swing next to us said. She looked about 4 years old. “I sleep on the top bunk and my brother is on the bottom one.”

All I could think about was WHY ON EARTH IS SHE TELLING ME, A STRANGER, WHERE SHE SLEEPS!? I just nodded awkwardly with an “ohh, that’s nice.” Should I tell her she shouldn’t tell strangers where she sleeps? Is that even weird? Am I the one being weird?

As she rambled on about how her mom plays music on her phone to help her fall asleep, my thoughts wandered and eyes fell on two middle school girls on top of the jungle gym near by. Giggle, giggle… “Noooo, it’s this finger!” A girl in an oversized hoodie snapped as she taught her friend how to flip the bird.

I looked at Annika in the swing, her eyes glued to the girl next to us, watching her closely and giggling at every move. I caught my daughter’s eyes and she squealed with delight.

Annika in swing

There was too much going on around me for my mom brain to handle. Could Annika be one of these girls? Look at how she was already observing and soaking in everything around her. How could I keep her here, in this innocent state, forever? How could I protect her mind and keep heart so pure, so undamaged and unexposed?

I scooped her up out of her swing and headed back for the camper. Within an hour she was snuggled in my arms fast asleep. I watched her chest move up and down and bottom lip stick out in typical tired-Annika fashion. Hot, salty tears welled up in the corners of my eyes.

I pictured Annika as all of those girls. These weren’t bizarre moments, but each girl displaying typical behavior for their age. How could I ever handle that? I can barely let the girl go outside without a stocking cap when its less than 65 degrees.

What will I do WHEN she falls off her bike and skins her knees? WHEN I hear her telling a stranger weird and possibly personal information? WHEN she comes home from school with a cool new word or gesture some punk taught her? (Because I’m sure it won’t be her doing the telling… :S)

I don’t have the answers for this, nor do I have an awesome “and then I thought about it some more and realized everything is going to be ok…” answer. Because it’s not. It’s not going to be “ok”. It is going to be HARD. Hard things are going to happen. And there will be times when her pain will be more than I can bear. Because if there is one thing I have learned in this year of motherhood it’s that her pain is my pain. When she fell and nearly lost a tooth, I thought I was going to lose it. And I nearly did as I was so paralyzed between deciding to calling a doctor or a dentist, that I almost called 911. Thankfully, I came to my senses and did the right thing—called my mom.

This mom thing is HARD. Sure I went to birthing classes and parenting classes, but what about a class where they prepare your heart to be ripped out and put on the wobbly legs of a 10 month old? Or a class to prepare you for the unexpected baby fever that creeps up on you when you have that 1 good day in the midst of 10 bad.

And I quote…

“Babe… look at the monitor (points to peaceful sleeping baby)… she’s just getting so big. I think I’m ready for another one.”

“Chels, yesterday you told me it was the hardest day of your life.”

“No I didn’t! Yesterday was great!”

Husband eye roll.

Sound familiar?

Aye. I digress…

I used to wonder why on earth moms let their kids dip everything in ketchup and eat hot dogs for two meals in a day. I used to think it was gross if a high chair was crusted with the previous meals’ food and cringe at the sight of a mom nonchalantly wiping spit up off the couch and then casually returning to conversation. I had no idea. I had no idea that GOOD moms give ketchup and hotdogs so their stubborn kids don’t starve, GOOD moms can’t clean everything, and GOOD moms can’t get worked up over a drop (or handful) of spit up, because if they did, they would go insane. Good moms look different than I thought, because babies are different than I thought.

See, I thought if I just did all the right things, then Annika would be “right”. I guess I forgot to factor in that she has her own personality and stubborn human nature. So as I reflect on my evening campground experience, I realize that no matter what I do to train Annika to make perfect choices, she is still her own person, and crafted in the image of God as she is, she is still HUMAN…parented by humans. No matter how many vegetables I put in front of her, she might always cry for mac and cheese, and no matter how hard Steve and I try to encourage her to a full life of following Jesus, she is still able to make her own choices.

As I rambled off the evening events to Steve he looked at Annika and then looked at me and smiled. I knew what he was going to say. “Good thing we have Jesus, Chels. I guess you just can’t be in control of this—you are going to have to give this one (parenting) to God.”

I sighed. I knew he was right, and although my head agrees, sometimes my heart is a little behind—trapped in fear of all the “what ifs.”

Loving someone is scary, especially when it is a miniature human whose life literally depends on you.  I was trying to capture how my heart felt and saw this quote from C.S. Lewis who said it perfectly:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” — C.S. Lewis

What sweet truth.

I want to love deeply and without fear, despite how hard it can be and how terrifying it is to put my heart on the line. Even though it doesn’t always feel this way– it is worth it, and I wouldn’t change anything. Nothing has changed and challenged me the way that becoming a mother has…and I’m only a year in. AH.

There will be hard, hard days and foreseeably many tears. I know I’m going to have to buck up to continue on this parenting journey, and although it might not all be ok… it will all be good, because I know I have a good, good Father. His plan is better than mine, and His protection more peaceful than anything I can provide. He sees all and knows all, and loves my family and me more than we love each other.

And this ^ is what I’m going to need to remember in 16 years Annika gets her driver’s license, and, more importantly, in 20 minutes when she wakes up from her nap and tries to leap off the couch.

One day at a time… grasping, clinging to Jesus.