“I can’t get my fingers out of this, Liane!” We had just returned from our friend Denise’s birthday party. Although cool party favors weren’t typical for us, this time we had a surprise. Denise’s mom had given each of us a single Chinese finger trap. Each trap was made from braided paper strips of white purple, orange, green or blue. Liane had chosen the one with green while I stayed true to my girly-girl image and gratefully accepted the purple one. I felt a surge of joy as I quickly realized that the trap only required two fingers. Only, my happiness was fleeting when I quickly realized that once each finger was in on either side, as hard as I pulled, they were stuck inside the braided tube.
I continued to pull each finger in the opposite direction as hard as I could, but the harder I tried, the tighter the Chinese trap clenched my left and right finger. “Meg! Wait! There is a trick to this, didn’t you know? If you pull too tight, you wind up stuck. It’s the worst. But, if you relax, you can be free!” I smiled at my friend, stopped trying to over-control the device, and was instantly rewarded.
April 18, 2014
“Daddy, my throat feels sore.” John and I looked at one another and immediate anguish consumed both of us. Wewere walking along the waterfront in a gorgeous Swiss town called, Montreaux. The path was lined with games, food stands and street performers. We were craving “glace” (ice cream) and finally found a booth selling it. Quickly the kids ordered their favorite choices. Admittedly, at that moment, I had been distracted by a Swiss woman running a game booth who had three fingers on her right hand and a shortened forearm. She seemed poised and confident. Each of our kids noticed also, whispering to me, “Look Mommy, a flaunter!” But, that was one flaunter toward whom I wish I had never turned. All of a sudden my heart skipped a beat. “Savanna had a regular cone, didn’t she?” Given our daughter’s severe allergy to all nuts, we are extraordinarily careful about not only the ice-cream she consumes, but also the cones—other than the generic wafer variety. The sugar cone varieties can often the sugar cones can be tainted with almonds. “I have the epi-pen, here in my purse,” I told my husband John. Up until that moment, Savanna had had only one severe reaction to nuts after inadvertently eating prepared rice that had nuts. We both knew that as soon as the epi was administered, our next immediate stop would be the hospital. Fortunately, that day’s episode was a false alarm. Her sore throat was due to a simple cold.
Last week John, the kids and I spent nine glorious days in France and Switzerland, visiting our close friends who had moved to Europe this past Autumn. As much as I looked forward to the seeing the magnificent views surrounded by mountains and clear lakes in Annecy and on the outskirts of Geneva, I was most excited about returning to Paris. The last time I had been there was at thirteen en route from living abroad with my family in the early ‘80’s in Egypt. For this trip, my family flew Swiss Air, first to visit Interlaken, Switzerland and then to Paris before returning to the States. The trip was actually memorable even before we departed, for at the gate in Cairo, I glanced back only to see a ‘gmoosa’ (water buffalo in Arabic) in the crowded, dusty airport staring back.
My memory of Paris then was thrilling. If people were staring at my hand difference, I wasn’t noticing it. Always a lover of art, I was captivated at the Louvre with every sculpture and painting, including of course the Mona Lisa. I was also mesmerized by the height and dominance of the Eiffel Tower overlooking the city, my eyes constantly glued to the stained glass at cathedrals such as Sacre- Coer and Notre Dame, always fascinated by the works of local artistic talent throughout Montmartre, and captivated by Parisian culture and food generally. It is no wonder that in college my favorite class was art history; my favorite artist Henry Toulous Le Trec.
But that was then.
While the city of Paris today certainly does not disappoint, and has certainly more than withstood the test of time, I am no longer that young teen, excited merely by my dazzling surroundings. Instead, I am the mother of three children under twelve, anxiously walking through dangerous and crowded streets with my husband and them in tow. Although the appeal and unconditional excitement of Paris was right in front of me, somehow it also remained a distant memory.
Sure, we live near Manhattan and certainly have visited it frequently, but wandering through Paris felt different. For one, the drivers in Paris reminded me of the drivers in Cairo…. in a word, reckless. There, the concept of a pedestrian right-of-way apparently is non-existent. In fact, on one day as we walked down some narrow streets near Montmartre, Charlie stepped into the path of an oncoming truck blazing around the street corner. Thankfully, John was nearby. Also, even though Ethan, Charlie and Savanna can recite their name, address and even phone number, none of them speak French. There was no question we needed to be there front and center for them constantly. That said, Paris is Paris and we still enjoyed ourselves immensely when not walking in a congested area of town.
This past week, I’ve thought a lot our life here at home in contrast with our European vacation with the kids. Following my parents’ lead, the key to our raising confident, successful children who happen to share my genetic condition has been to loosen the reigns and never to overprotect. We have allowed our boys to follow their passions, even when our gut has been to hold them back out of fear of rejection, humiliation, or even failure. Instead of holding on as tight as possible, we relax ourselves, let go and the reward has indeed been sweet. At home they live their lives feeling proud, trying anything that seems appealing and quite frankly, normal. And, in both France and Switzerland, both Ethan and Charlie couldn’t have flaunted in public with more confidence if they tried. I beamed with pride. But, as grateful as I am that I have overcome the instinctive urge to over-protect when it comes to the boys and their physical difference, our experiences in Europe also reminded me that sometimes striking the right balance in supporting all of our children has nothing to do with being overprotective.
Sometimes, regardless of what they may look like, we simply must protect.