Funny story. The last day exploring Rome, last day of a long, full trip, we went to Aqueduct Park just outside Rome. We had a few hours to spend before our “big” adventure to the Vatican and Castel St. Angelo that afternoon, so it sounded like a low key adventure to spend the time wandering around a green open space.
It was pretty amazing.
The feat of engineering all to move water was awe-inspiring! We walked over to the towering ruins, still impressive and majestic, and meandered along the paths. We were tired after days and days of busy sight-seeing and the general lack of structure and routine that comes with travel. The boys ran ahead with their boundless energy, turning back to exclaim over this or that, staying more or less close by. Definitely close enough for the kind of running free these wide open spaces encourage. But at one point, where the path crossed a small creek over a bridge, an elderly Italian man gestured to us to keep them closer. I assumed he was concerned about the shallow water of the stream below, and even though there were sides to the bridge, he was just expressing some uneasiness at their boyish antics even though I knew they’d be fine. We nodded and moved along.
Not five minutes later one of our boys, I can’t even remember who started, began to wail. He was followed closely by the other who joined in with cries of pain. They’d been walking along the side of the path and squatted down when something must have caught their eye in the foliage. They were both wringing their hands and screaming. All four of us adults, right there when it happened, crowded around them and my father-in-law and husband were the first to arrive at the explanation for their tears: stinging nettle. A fairly common plant, even the slightest contact will induce a burning sensation on the skin which lasts several minutes. Nothing can get it off, not brushing the nettles away (they’re too small), not water. We were helpless with two screaming children. My father-in-law and husband had both experienced it back in the farm country of Illinois where my husband grew up. They assured me it would pass and there was nothing to be done. Sure enough, within about 10 minutes, the first one to have started the wailing settled down to miserable sniffles. The other followed suit at about the same interval as at the beginning. We meandered out way out of the park, back to the train station, and to our temporary home for naps, needing to recover!
This experience comes to mind because it touches on something I ponder a lot as my over-thinking brain weighs the pros and cons of venturing out into the world. On the one hand, adventures are so, so wonderful, especially with kids! The childlike wonder and discovery is contagious! On the other hand, by definition, adventure includes some level of uncertainty. You never quite know what could happen next. Sometimes you get more than you bargained for!
The thing is, honestly, life’s an adventure. We’re never really sure what the next moment holds, especially with kids! But the control freak in me wants to ignore this fact in the relatively controlled environment of home life and routine. But when I contemplate even something that sounds fairly harmless, like visiting a park in a normal Roman neighborhood, there’s always the reality of things like stinging nettle.
And here’s where I have to remind myself of a few things. Number one, the pros outweigh the cons. I know adventuring is worth it! I know seeing/doing/experiencing life fully is the way to go. I don’t want to keep my kids in a bubble. I want to keep them safe, yes, but I want them to be able to explore and learn by doing and seeing and going and adventuring as much as possible (safely! Did I say that yet?). And number two, here’s the real clincher: I really don’t have that much control anyway when it comes to keeping them safe. It’s a hard reality to face, but it’s true. I could’ve chosen to stay home, far away from stinging nettle (I think!) and Xander could trip crossing our own backyard and fall just the wrong way and scrape his ear of all things (yes, this literally just happened the other day).
They say motherhood is like having a part of your heart running around outside your body. Touching things like stinging nettle and tripping and falling and scraping themselves. It’s terrifying! But since locking them in a padded room is frowned upon, and let’s face it, no real solution anyway, it’s worth reminding our intensely-invested hearts and over-thinking brains to give them a little room to have their own adventures (as safely as possible! It’s called risk-assessment, guys!) and learn and grow along the way. Even when it makes us gasp sometimes and then ache as we hold them through their tears, ice their bumps, and bandage their scrapes. Parenting is an adventure!