I used to be fearless. My idea of a good time used to be jumping out of a plane, or maybe going whitewater rafting. Danger potential was never part of my thought process. Surely, some of my former disdain for caution can be attributed to juvenile ignorance. In retrospect, I should not have stayed in the self-described “hostel” that was CLEARLY just someone’s apartment with a suspicious hole in the shower wall. Nonetheless, I don’t think that juvenile ignorance can account for all of my fearlessness. To this day, I find myself longing for adventure and adrenaline; I just don’t act on it.
I adopted my oldest daughter as a 26-year-old single mother. After meeting her during a short-term orphanage mission trip, I knew Anna was mine. Immediately I knew, come hell or high water, that I would spend the rest of my days ensuring that this sweet baby was loved and cared for. After meeting her, I returned to the United States for a period of time to prepare for an international move. I eventually returned to Uganda to serve in the same orphanage and gain custody of my sweet girl. It made no logical sense, really. I was young and single. Moving across the world eliminated the possibility of gainful employment. But again, I was fearless. So naturally, I bought a one-way ticket to Uganda, with the intention of staying until I could leave the country with my daughter.
Ultimately gaining custody of my daughter began my journey into motherhood. In the beginning, parenting my daughter WAS my grand adventure. As a single parent, it was just she and I in a foreign country. Me and my (needy!) little buddy. Partners in crime. I was confident; I had prepared for this. What I had not prepared for was the actual feeling of having my heart walk around outside of my chest, and the weight of the sole responsibility for another human life. Fear started staining my soul, as the red dirt stained my skin. What is it about being a mother that immediately sends your brain into worst-case scenario mode?
As an “ex-pat” living in a third world country, I was afforded so many more luxuries than my African mama counterparts…those mamas that I saw who truly knew struggle. Those African mamas who love their babies just as fiercely as American mamas. I had so much less to be afraid of. My daughter and I shared a gated house with other North American women, and we were able to have a guard who watched over the house at night. Though I’m certain he slept on the porch most nights, it was a comfort most did not have. We had mosquito nets above our beds, and an abundant supply of repellent. Though it required boiling before drinking, water ran through the pipes of our home. We had access to a safe food supply.
Still, things that I previously hadn’t given a second thought, suddenly terrified me. I had traveled all over the country via bike, motorcycle, matatu (public transport van), and by car. Clinging to my daughter on the backs of said bikes and motorcycles abruptly seemed like a terrible plan, as did the absence of car seats. I knew snakes were prevalent around our home, but the black mamba in the same house as my sleeping daughter sent me over the edge. Though I was vigilant about rubbing mosquito repellent on my toddler’s skin, every fever raised the possibility of malaria. Most powerfully, though, we lived in a relatively safe tourist town, I lay awake most nights terror-stricken that someone would take my daughter from me. Whether legally or illegally, I was petrified that I would be deemed unworthy of being her mother, and she would be gone.
On those days I longed to be holding my daughter on the seats of an airplane, with the exit door closed. Little did I know that my fear would not dissipate when the wheels left the runway that hot, muggy evening. Safety, like control, is always an illusion. I no longer feared deadly venomous snakes, or frightening illnesses that have been eradicated in the United States. But I continued to fear kidnappers and those who exploit children, which perhaps is indicative of a few too many hours of my life spent watching Law and Order: SVU. I continued to fear that I was unworthy of being her mother, that my pale skin would never allow me to know her struggles or teach her what it means to be African American.
Each year that passes elicits new fears, and sometimes brings back old ones, both for my daughter and sons. Will I make the right decisions? Enroll them in the right schools? Will they have encouraging friends? Am I modeling the values we hold dear? Do we pursue enough adventure? I berate myself often for the rabbit holes of worry that I fall into. I desperately wish that I didn’t turn every. little. thing. into an ordeal. I am fully aware that constant worry is neither pleasant, nor productive. However, I had an epiphany the other day.
I realized that sometimes fear threatens to swallow me whole because I know that I have SO very much to lose. As mamas, we invest so much in our kiddos. Some of us also invest in our relationships with spouses, and some of us have invested greatly in our careers. But we are all overwhelmingly invested in our kids. No matter the landscape of your life, it is invaluable. YOU are invaluable. And though I will strive to be a more “zen” kind of mom, realizing that my fears are tied to how deeply I value what I have has allowed me to give myself grace.