I have a long history of what my husband calls overpacking and what I call being prepared. It started with a diaper bag with anything I could imagine my infants and toddlers could need. It morphed into a minivan that we could basically live in for a week if we had to. On trips I packed our suitcases with extra outfits in case they fell in the creek (which they always did). I brought layers of clothing to withstand hot and cold weather changes. Food in a cooler, water by the gallons. Whatever happened, we were ready, with me standing proudly at the helm of my motherly ship.
A few years ago, my daughter went on a mission trip with her youth group to Costa Rica. I was externally calm about sending her out of the country, but internally churning. I tried to think of anything I could do to control bad or uncomfortable things that would happen to her. I gave her the typhoid vaccine and packed medication for nausea, traveler’s diarrhea, and headaches, as well as creams for itching, pain, and scrapes. Tylenol and Motrin and TUMS. Extra socks, extra snacks.
A few days into the trip (and mercifully while I was already asleep), a late-night text came in from my daughter. She and her group had evacuated their cabin because there was an earthquake in Costa Rica. She had awakened to her bed shaking and thought it was a friend trying to wake her.
My husband did not wake me at midnight. He calmly responded to listen to the local team, as they would know what to do to stay safe. As she described the shaking, he told her it must be so interesting to know what an earthquake feels like. He stayed on the text thread with her until she was cleared to go back inside and was tucked safely into her bunk bed.
The next morning, he said to me in passing, “Oh, there was an earthquake in Costa Rica last night.” I asked for more details but he said “she’s fine” and rolled over to go back to sleep. Before I could start looking for flights to go down there, he assured me everything was fine.
With all my packing and preparation and thinking and imagining all that could go wrong while my 14-year-old was away from me, I never considered an 6.7-magnitude earthquake or any other natural disaster, for that matter. I had not warned her what to do in an earthquake, and this felt like a parental failure.
If I had, would I have sent an earthquake supply kit? What even is an earthquake supply kit? I definitely would have looked it up, prepared one, and put it in her suitcase.
I want to protect my children from all the bad things that can occur in their lives. I want to prepare for them, and also teach them to be prepared. I want to pack all the things that will get rid of their discomfort, pain, and fear. But sometimes I need to send them with an empty suitcase and let them pack for themselves. I need to let them have these uncomfortable experiences. I need to let them feel unsettled.
Thankfully, life doesn’t let me anticipate all the things that could go wrong. Life makes sure my kids have uncomfortable and scary experiences for which I have not packed a remedy. If I am always there with the TUMS and the anti-itch cream and the earthquake preparedness kit, they will not learn to find their own solutions.
The moments I cannot rescue them are their most important moments of growth. When I’m not there to rescue my children, they have to rescue themselves.