I love how whenever a child ends up in a mishap and the parent finds themself answering to a news reporter, whether the child was lost at the mall, fell into a pool, or was kidnapped by genetically modified panda bears, the answer is always the same, “You just can’t take your eyes off of them for even a minute.” That poor parent is then flooded with shadenfreud, as the sea of solemn faces and words of comfort and pity only weakly mask the whispered “tsk-tsks” of the gleefully self-righteous parents around them – all of whom know better than to take their eyes off their children.
So I’ll just get it out right now – I currently have, and frequently take, my eyes off my children. Sometimes I need to shower, sometimes to cook dinner; every now and then I’m totally negligent and hide in my room doing nothing while my children fend for themselves. They’ve generally come through these episodes without event, but there was that one time…
My middle daughter was all of one year old and had moved more quickly than we realized from barely walking to climbing. My older daughter was a dutiful big sister: ever ready to tattle. My husband and I had taken our eyes off both of them, trusting Caillou to keep them entranced so we could complete our daily grooming. Our tooth-brushing was interrupted when we received word from our scout that the toddler was “eating all the vitamins!” We looked down at her with skepticism, knowing that the vitamins were kept on the top shelf of the upper cabinets and they were sealed with a “childproof” cap. Without much urgency, I headed to the living room to discover my toddler in the middle of a scattered pile of Flintstones, consuming them as quickly as her fine motor skills allowed (which fortunately, wasn’t very quickly, her gross motor skills being far more advanced than her fine ones). Sounding the alarm with my husband, I gathered her up while he began collecting the vitamins. I was stunned, as I went into the kitchen, to see the wake of her efforts. A chair had been dragged from the table and pushed up against the cupboard. The upper cabinets were flung wide open, and the contents of the uppermost shelf were upended. It had never, ever crossed my mind that my small daughter was capable of such a feat. I would have thought she’d need a nap, just after dragging that heavy chair across the kitchen. Who would guess she would still have the muster to climb up on the counter, get the cupboard doors open, find the vitamins, and overcome the childproof cap! Let alone get safely back to the ground to take her snack in to munch on while she watched TV.
In short, I caught a break. I had taken my eyes off her. She could have fallen down a well, been stolen by aliens, or run away with gypsies. One of my friends recently mentioned her desire to wrap her toddler in bubble wrap. This confession is my commiseration with the frustration she feels, trying to keep a boisterous, curious child safe, without surrendering to a lifestyle of fear. Unfortunately, kids do get hurt sometimes, and sometimes it is because their parents are negligently inattentive. But I’m not going to tsk at that poor parent whose child has been hurt or lost, because it happens incredibly fast, and there is no human way to avoid, now and then, taking our eyes off our beloved children. It doesn’t mean we’re stupid, or that we don’t love our kids. Sometimes our kids have to share our attention with life's other necessities, and in those moments, we have to rely on the benevolence of a greater power.
Just as shepherds watch over their sheep, you must watch over everyone God has placed in your care. 1 Peter 5:2a