In the rearview mirror I spied her little hand hanging out the half-open back window, the wings of her butterfly finger puppet flapping madly in the wind.
B is for butterfly. B is also for bunny ears, the alphabet item she brought to pre-school earlier in the week. Bunny ears are good. They are cute and they stay on her head, where I can see them bobbing sweetly in the same rearview mirror. They do not feel compelled to fly out the window.
“Sophie, don’t hang your hand outside the car window.”
“Why?” (Of course.)
“Because, it’s not…”
I don’t want to say it.
“Safe?” She asks.
“Why?” (Of course.)
“Well, your hand could get hit by something.”
Sigh. “Like another car or a… a silly bird.” (I know I am failing. I hope silly birds will make her laugh.)
Sophie, who is my five-year-old niece, does not laugh. She informs me that it is very unlikely a car would get close enough or that any bird would be so silly as to fly into her hand.
My toddler nephew sits in his car seat next to her quietly munching cashews. Before we picked up his sister, we ran around the local gym pretending to be monkeys and kicking soccer balls with eight other toddlers and their minders.
My nomadic lifestyle has led me to Denver, Colorado where I have been helping take care of my niece and nephew. Believe it or not, this is another travel adventure. I have landed in a foreign territory with two adorable monsters as companions who manage, somehow, to find trouble everywhere. We are traveling without a map and, while we speak the same language, we do not share a dialect.
Too often in the past week I’ve told Sophie not to do something. Reflecting on this makes me cringe. Why? Because I want her wonderfully curious and testing nature to drive her to do something she loves someday, and fear of perceived consequences can be a crippling obstacle for “grown-up” humans.
I mean, yes. Between now and then, I would also like her to refrain from activities like swinging a sturdy 6-foot cardboard tube in the same general direction as her brother’s head. Sometimes the reprimands are necessary.
Simply put, I want her to be a courageous spirit. The evening before the butterfly incident, I attended a panel hosted by She Says Denver about women finding courage to change and/or advance their careers. The moderator began with a reminder that courage is about mental strength.
Courage: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
Venture: to go somewhere that is unknown, dangerous, etc.; to start to do something new or different that usually involves risk
From Merriam Webster
When I left my job, packed up my apartment and set out alone to explore the world, a few friends told me I was courageous. I replied that I was only doing what I felt most compelled to do at that moment in my life, and when all things were considered, the risks were minimal. (And with all the blogger bios out there that start with “I quit my job and hit the road…” it felt almost embarrassingly cliché.)
But I admit it takes a certain independence of spirit to jump off the cliff of security and venture into the unknown. When my moment of decision came, I committed to following my heart. I was not stopped by thoughts like, “I could never quit my job. I could never travel alone. I could never leave my friends or the city I have lived in for 15 years… because it’s not safe and I am not strong enough.”
For this, I owe my mother. She believed I could do anything I wanted and she told me that often. She also worried (a lot) and doled out plenty of reprimands when I was a kid, but she found a harmony that fostered my determination to live the way I want.
If I never took a chance on leaving, I never would have seen the sights of Spain and Portugal or watched my shadow land on an ancient palace in Morocco or jumped into the Pacific and Indian oceans (at the same time) or seen giant and tiny creatures in Indonesia and the Philippines… or met all the fun and interesting folks I encountered on the journey.
Someday, when she is an adult woman, I want Sophie to have the mental strength to venture into whatever unknown she needs to explore, whether it’s traveling the world on her own, starting her own company or something else altogether.
I hope she learns that C is for Courage. And, I’m sure she will learn C is for Caution too. But luckily there is B for Balance as much as for Butterflies and Bunny Ears.