When I was in my first year of college, I found myself, in many ways, in over my head. I was trying to major in Physics without having taken anywhere near as much high school math as my classmates, due to the limitations of my high school. And still I persevered, believing that the sheer quantity of effort would make up for a lack of training. In the end, it took discovering a different subject that intrigued me even more than Physics that led me to decide to change my major from Physics to Economics. Of course, they both drew heavily from math, so the change was not all that unusual. The frame of mind that I had in those early years, as I believed, that somehow, fierce effort would allow me to succeed, is one that I recall when I think of my efforts to provide a safe environment for my daughter to grow up in.
I clearly remember the first months when my daughter came home. Getting her home had been a difficult process, and now that she was completely in my care, I felt a sense of dread and a huge sense of responsibility for this tiny person who looked up at me with complete trust. I was reminded of that feeling the other day when my daughter pointed out a scene on the side of the highway. As we drove by, we noticed a mother duck with a handful of baby ducks near her. As cars speeded past her, it became clear that the mother duck was venturing out into traffic. Just why she was doing this became clear in a few minutes. One of her baby ducks had been injured on the highway, and she was attempting to go out to retrieve it. My daughter was horrified that it looked like the mother duck would be injured in the process. This, however, got me to thinking of the many risks we, as mothers, take to protect our children.
There are the obvious ways that we protect them; vaccinations and car seats and choosing an appropriate school come to mind. But then there are also the sacrifices we make to help them each day of their lives; do you want that last piece of chocolate cake? (I don’t want it, really.) I recently asked a man in a bookstore about a book that my daughter wanted to buy; was it appropriate for her age group? Thankfully it was, since I didn’t want to go on record saying that I would not buy a book for her. Many mothers make sacrifices to stay home with their children, or twist their lives into knots to juggle mothering and working for pay. I often say that I would walk in front of a train to save her, but the reality is that just the act of walking in front of a train might not be enough to keep her safe. It was clear, for example, that the courageous act of that mother duck walking out into highway traffic to save her baby duck may not have been enough to bring the duck home alive.
As I think of my often vain attempts to keep my daughter safe, I can’t help but think of the women half a world away in Nigeria currently waiting for their daughters to be returned, an issue that, even in a contentious political season, has attracted the attention of people from across the political spectrum. I know that I can’t protect my daughter from the everyday challenges of life, but I still find myself hoping that the small efforts I make will somehow have a positive effect on how her life unfolds. And to the mothers in Nigeria waiting for the return of your own daughters, I hope that you know of the concerns of mothers everywhere are with you.