My boys, who are three and five, usually eat breakfast and lunch at our kitchen island, with me on the opposite side. They sit on backless stools and are adept at climbing up and down. They have been warned at least one million times of the potential dangers of falling off a stool onto a hard tile floor. Keep your hands to yourself, be careful getting down, and do NOT tip that stool are all familiar refrains during meals at our house.
Despite the reminders, every once in a while, they reach a little too far or move a little too quickly, and the stool wobbles enough to give them a scare. As they catch themselves, firmly planting both forearms on the counter, their eyes go wide and look for mine. I always want to scold them, “How many times have we told you not to mess around on the stool?”
But I know that’s not what they need at that moment. So instead, I meet their gaze and say calmly, “Are you OK?” with a sympathetic half-smile and my eyebrows raised enough to show that the concern is mixed with a bit of disapproval.
They nod as their eyes begin to narrow and their heart rate returns to normal.
Every time it happens, they look to me. For reassurance that they are OK. For comfort. Maybe even for those reminders to be more careful.
Every time they get scared, or nervous, or in need of encouragement, they look to me.
They did it when they were infants and heard a loud noise. They did it when they stumbled while learning to walk. They did it the first time they climbed up to the top of the big slide at the playground.
Every time, they look to me.
And I hope they always will.
I hope they look to me when they fall off their bike, when they go to kindergarten, when they fail a test, when they take center ice or center stage, when they get in trouble at school, when they get in a fight with their best friend, when someone breaks their heart, when they get their first speeding ticket.
Because every time they do, I’ll meet their searching eyes with my own and whatever is needed most at the moment–an encouraging smile, a quick nod, a thumbs up, a hug.
Later, there’s always time for discussion, debate, and lessons to be learned, but my first priority is to make sure they know I am there, they are safe, and they can always come to me, even when (and maybe especially when) they are afraid, nervous, hurting, or just in need of their mom.