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Animal instincts

Yesterday my mom sent me a funny meme from the_mommy_talks that said, "Mama Bear is such a sweet way to describe the fact that I'd tear you open and eat your insides if you hurt my child."

I've had more than one mama bear moment in the past week. One of them felt like I had been woken from hibernation by someone prodding me with a red hot fire iron to find my cub in danger. The other was much less intense. But as my kids get older and deal with weightier problems and bigger bullies, I confess I'm struggling with how to help. I wish it were as easy as dealing with fish tank problems.

We have a 20-gallon aquarium that currently has three fish in it. A couple weeks ago, we had gotten down to only our black, goggle-eyed goldfish, who is about four inches long, which means we can't put really little fish in the tank that could tempt him to eat them. So, the boys and I headed to the store and picked out five new guppies, all which should have been safe sizes. They all seemed happy and healthy for a few days. Then one morning, my youngest said the tiniest one was missing. I couldn't find it, either. I pulled everything but the fish, snails and cleaner shrimp out of the tank and painstakingly searched, but this fish had vanished. Within a couple more days, the other smallest guppy was gone without a trace. There is only one explanation: the other fish killed them and ate them. I'm assuming the goldfish is the culprit, being significantly larger than all the other fish.

At this point, we want to get rid of it. Why keep a fish around that is a danger to every new fish we add to the tank? This seems like a pretty black-and-white decision. But the people our kids deal with at school and in sports that are a nuisance, potential bullies, or possibly dangerous? We have little to no control over them, and how to handle these situations as they come is more gray for us as parents, isn't it?

The reality is that we can't remove our kids from the "aquarium of life." We can't protect them from bullies who fling hurtful words or hurl real punches. As I dropped my boys off at school this morning, I was struck by how safe they truly are in the scheme of things. I thought about what it's like today for the mothers in Ukraine who wrote their childrens' blood types in their clothing before sending them to school. It guts me to even imagine such an exercise being my reality.

We live in a world that is very broken and full of evil, hatred, hurt, and suffering. And yet, we also live in a world full of beauty, love, kindness, hope, and grace. There is a tightrope we parents have to get our children across, and below it is a field of the most beautiful gardens of every-colored flower and a few hungry alligators. We can point out the beauty beneath us as we walk and pretend the alligators aren't there, hoping and praying our children won't notice them and the alligators are blind. (This would be unwise.) We can fear the gators so much that we pick up our children and carry them across quickly enough to protect them from danger. (Also unwise.) Or we can do something in-between, maybe by calmly leading the way or giving them an outstretched hand when they lose balance. We can't rescue our children from heartbreak or hurt, and when we try, there is mounting evidence that we raise adults with nearly zero coping skills. What they need is for us to help them through these trials.

I wanted to flex my muscle, pick up my kid, and tightrope past a gator this morning. Yesterday's small-ish incident poked my barely-back-to-hibernating mama bear, waking her up again. But in talking through it with Greg and this child, we decided to just let things be. Greg pointed out that we can't change the mean people around us. Oh how I wish we could! I wish I could move a few goggle-eyed goldfish right out of the school aquarium. But sometimes, we have to choose instead to find a way, as much as it's in our power, to live in peace with these bullies. I said, "What's most important to me is that you know we have your back and we want you to be safe. You need to know we will fight for you." And we determined together that fighting, in this case, meant doing nothing.

So, if anyone local wants a lone, black, goggle-eyed goldfish, let me know. For now, this mama bear is going back to sleep.


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