I’ll be the first to admit that I play by the rules. I’m the student on the first row of the class, hand waving wildly in the air with the right answer, asking if there’s anything we can do for extra credit. I attribute my need to please and stay on the straight and narrow with an incredible set of parents who trusted and believed in us kids with everything they had. They were never strict, and never enforced hard “rules” in the family, but they had such confidence and faith in us that we never strayed too far over into shady territory, afraid we’d let them down and shatter that ironclad assurance they’d placed over us. Looking back, maybe it was simply an incredibly smart parenting tactic, but whatever the reason, my siblings and I have always sought after what’s good, what’s comfortable, and what’s right.
As such, I tend to stay away from anything too adventurous. When my husband suggested we climb a waterfall with a bunch of strangers during our honeymoon in Jamaica, my eyes grew huge and I immediately shot down the idea, until his powers of persuasion convinced me to give it a go. Looking back on those pictures of me in my water shoes, a mile off the ground, smack dab in the middle of a hand-holding chain of people from all over the globe, navigating choppy waters and taking a giant leap outside of my comfort zone, I see a girl who’s horizons were expanded. However, I had no idea how much I’d have to shake up my lifelong notion of “playing it safe” until I had kids.
Now, every single day is an adventure with my two toddlers. If we’re not exploring the children’s museum or the zoo, we’re at the park or playground. I run and stand near my youngest as he dangles his legs over the one opening on the swingset that’s big enough for him to fall through. I rush to his side to protect him and he just giggles at me. I worry over them, and spend way too long tucking their hair behind their ears and staring at them while they fall asleep. In more ways than one, parenting is the scariest and most challenging thing I’ve ever done. It’s pushed me completely past my limits and opened my eyes to how big the world really is.
I remember a few years ago, my best friend from high school decided to move down the east coast and start a new life on the Florida shore. We’d been best buddies for as long as I could remember, and the notion of her packing up all of her belongings, calling the movers, and traveling states southward was beyond me. When I asked her why she was making the change, she simply replied, “Because I love discovery. I need to find something new and see something fresh or I’m going to suffocate in this small town.”
At first, I was taken aback at her response. Yes, our hometown is small. It only has one stoplight, one diner, and one grocery store. There’s nothing to do on a weekend night and everyone has to travel at least two cities over to find any sort of excitement. Yet, it’s where I grew up and where my husband and I decided to come back and settle down. We’re raising our babies two miles from where my parents live, and I couldn’t ask for a sweeter spot. So when she said she was suffocated, I first felt defensive.
Then, I realized that in many ways, I felt the same way in a sense. All of my life, I’d avoided anything that even remotely resembled a risk. Move away to a college a few states over? No way! I chose the local state college, and thankfully, my high school sweetheart did too. Pursue a career in a big city, miles away from my home? Nope, I’d opted to come back to my roots, and was thrilled to land a technical writing job 20 minutes away from our home. So when our babies came in 2014 and 2016, I didn’t know what to expect, and like most new parents, I was scared and anxious down to the bone.
Turns out, those two were exactly the shake-up I needed in my life. Like my friend, I’m discovering something new every day. No two days are ever the same and I’m grateful they’re not. We take trail walks, and run through the sprinkler. We pop water balloons when it’s warm and we create blanket forts when it’s not. Every moment is fresh and ripe with potential, and leaning into that adventure has been the most transformative thing in my life.
So maybe I’m not playing it safe anymore, but I’m playing more than I ever have. I’m exploring, and digging in fresh dirt, and climbing tall trees. I’m putting myself out there and meeting new moms, and arranging playdates that last all day long. If my younger self could see me now, she’d probably open her eyes wide as saucers at first. Then, she’d break out into a wide smile and throw her head back laughing. A big, joyous laugh acknowledging this beautiful, crazy turn of events that’s made me into a better woman, wife, mother and friend. I’d tell myself, “Just wait. One day two miracles are going to come along and your straight and narrow is going to curve just a bit. But it’s going to lead you down a direction and road so utterly gorgeous you’ll never want to go back.”