Her Bad Mother

Friday, May 18, 2007

Achtung, Baby

When I was 11 years old, I stole a horse.

Borrowed might be a more accurate description - it was always my intention to return the horse - but still. I took a horse that did not belong to me. It was summer, I was visiting a friend in the country, and we were bored. We were out for a stroll on a country road when we spotted some horses in a field and decided that it would be a really great adventure to just get on those horses and go galloping across those fields.

So we did.

The only problem was, I was hardly an experienced rider, and galloping bareback on an unfamiliar horse with only a dusty mane to hang on to is not an easy thing to do. I lasted about five minutes into the ride before I was tossed, up and over the horse's head and into the grass, as the horse leapt over a fence. I was battered and bruised and scraped and more than a little dizzy. But I'll never forget the exhilaration. I had flown. I had seized that great animal and - filled with gleeful terror - hoisted myself on top and flown away toward the horizon, soaring for forever and forever and forever on the wind and it had been magnificent. I lay in the grass for what seemed an eternity, while my friend sobbed over my scratched-up body, and breathed in the smell of grass and horse and dirt and tears and felt the breeze ruffle my hair and sting my scraped-up cheeks and felt alive.

I've never forgotten that feeling. I've ridden many times since (never again, however, bareback and never again in short terry-cloth shorts), and had a great many adventures, but I've never again captured that exact feeling, that feeling of tossing yourself like a leaf into the wind to be flung and spun about, knowing that however hard you land it will feel like a flutter. That feeling of being so incredibly small and vulnerable and at the same time indestructible. That feeling of exhilaration that only comes with doing something really, really breathtakingly, heart-stoppingly, brilliantly scary.

That feeling that you can only really, truly appreciate, I think, when you're a child - when you experience your smallness as power, when you feel both diminutive and indestructible, when you thrill at fear. I can see the glimmer of this feeling in WonderBaby, in the spark in her eyes as she spins madly atop some jungle gym, barreling toward the slide, batting her mother's worrying, grasping hands away, as she races toward the fences, the rocks, the dining room furniture, straining to go higher-faster-further.

That spark in her eye thrills me, and terrifies me. It thrills me because I remember that spark in my own eye, and the circuits of electricity coursing through my veins to light that spark. I remember the thrill of balancing precariously in the highest limbs of a cherry tree, my lips and fingers stained pink from the purloined fruit, gazing down at the grass below and wondering what it would be like to just let go and fall. Or tiptoeing around the bushes that surrounded the decrepit old house of the ancient woman who lived near the pond, hoping to catch a glimpse of her in the middle of some terrible spell-casting ritual, hoping to hear her cackle and shriek, hoping to run away, terrified, giggling and screaming, back to the safety of our tree-forts and hideaways. Or racing down the steepest hill on our bicycles, daring each other to let go of the handlebars and the pedals and let our limbs fly as we careen faster and faster and faster. Or stealing a horse, and falling off, and loving it.

But it terrifies me, too, because I remember. I remember how intoxicating those feelings, that buzz that no narcotic, no liquor can ever replicate, that sweet, exhilarating intoxication that makes you dizzy with excitement and insensible to danger, that makes you do things like drop from trees or stalk little old ladies or steal horses. I see that spark in WonderBaby's eyes as she strains to climb higher and higher and higher up whatever mountain of wood or metal or sand or furniture stands before her, and I think, she will just keep going. She'll want higher and higher and faster and faster and she will not stop climbing and racing and speeding into the sweet exhilaration of fear.

And it scares me because I - having left Neverland long ago - am now mortal and fleshy and bound by time and space and body and I feel fear as a threat, as a warning, as a reminder that I am no longer nor was I ever a leaf on the wind, fluttering, landing with a whisper. I know that the wind is not gentle, and I know that I break, and I know that she breaks. I know that beneath her wings there is flesh and bone and blood; I know that no matter how immortal she seems or feels, no matter how removed from the exigencies of time and space is her experience of life, no matter how freely she flies... I know that she is as bound to earth and body as am I.

But I also know this: that being bound and feeling bound are two very, very different things, and that once upon a time, a long time ago, I felt unbound. I flew. And the memories of this flight are among the sweetest that I carry.

So. I want for her to fly, as much as she can, while she still believes that she has wings. I want her to be dangerous, to tilt into the wind, to aim at the sun. I want her childhood to filled with speed and light and the delicious tang of fear. I want her to build castles and forts and hunt monsters and spy on witches and race dragons and eat cherries in the very topmost limbs of the trees.

I want her to steal horses.


Inspired by the Dangerous Books For Boys, which is also for girls, and for grown-ups who remember being dangerous boys and girls. It's posted as part of the Mother-Talk Blog Bonanza.


Blogger Tink said...

*Exhales* That was an awesome post, possibly one of my favorites.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

this post makes me think of two songs. the first is something she might say:

"oh how the little things strengthen my tiny wings, help me to take on the world. when you love me there's nothing i wouldn't try - i might even fly..."

and the second more something you might say in return:

"when you're soaring through the air, i'll be your solid ground. take every chance you dare - i'll still be there when you come back down. angel, you were born to fly, and if you get too high i'll catch you when you fall. i know the sky is calling; angel, let me help you with your wings."

beautiful stuff, HBM.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Mad said...

my daughter has none of this. or very little. I swear. I read this agog at its contents wishing I saw more of it reflected back at me and somewhat relieved that I don't.

4:58 PM  
Blogger j.sterling said...

i love you.
i did the same thing- except for there was no field.. it was just a huge stable yard- and i went INTO SOMEONE'S YARD AND TOOK THEIR HORSE AND HOPPED ON IT AND RODE IT AROUND! who the hell does that?!?! someone so in love with horses who never got to ride them as often as she wanted- and who just wanted to ride that horse.
i suck. lol

5:00 PM  
Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

My oldest son doesn't have any of that fearlessness. My youngest however, oy, that boy gives me gray hair. But I still want him to fly too. I just have to cover my eyes & hope he doesn't fall!

I love this story, HBM!

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't that larceny?

Okay, fine, it was an amazing post, and I get it, and now I want to steal horses.

5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a brave Mamma...I flew off a horse once as a kid and was petrified after that..I've since been on horses a ton of times but that fear is still embedded into my psyche.

Maybe that's why I'm so overprotective now...Amazing post.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Creative-Type Dad said...

I think I want to steal a horse now...

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... you're a rustler! And you're raising a rustler!

How cool is that.

Nice post.

7:10 PM  
Blogger S said...

Beautiful, HBM.

I'm with Mad. I am relieved that neither of my two appears to be a risk-taker.

I remember babysitting one night in NYC with my best friend. And when the parents had come home, and we'd been paid, we took the elevator up to the top floor of the 16-story apartment building and walked up to the roof. We then treated the wall at the edges of the roof as the bottom uneven bar (we were both gymnasts), and jumped up, leaning our torsos off of the roof. Exhilarating? Yes? Breathtakingly stupid? Also that.

7:11 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

This makes me ponder on the difference between stupidity and daring. Such a thin line between the two. And looked at from different sides, either could be the other.

Not saying that what you did was stupid, I am narcssistically reflecting on some of my own actions. Hotel roofs in New York spring to mind.


The benadryl seems to be working in your favour as regards your writing.....that was a lovely post.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Girlplustwo said...

gorgeous. another warrior in training, i see.

we need all the ones we can get.

(i, too, had a horse riding moment like that once) sigh.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Sarahviz said...

I loved this line you wrote "...delicious tang of fear..."

8:32 PM  
Blogger OhTheJoys said...

To be fearless once more...

8:32 PM  
Blogger The Estrogen Files said...

Hey horsie stealer - my girls want to be your BFF if you steal them a horse!

Did you ever hear the quote about having a child makes your heart go forever walking around outside your body? Way too true.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

love this post. brought back good feelings and memories from childhood. You are right though - now that we're older and we're the parents, it's harder to identify with the freedom and easier to say "be careful!" I want my boys to experience their childhoods the way I did - with joy and laughter and the freedom that comes only from being a child. And while I will always scream "be careful" I still take joy in the boys being just that: the boys.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Jenifer said...

I don't even like horses and I am sold. Rosebud is just like Wonderbaby and had a cast to prove it....

Lovely story.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

I'm with Mad in that the Boy doesn't seem too adventurous. Every now and then I get glimpses of it though, and it's exhilirating.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Brave, beautiful fearlessness.

I never stole a horse, but I did used to climb trees, once falling from the top of a big willow tree. The story got better and better as the years went on, since I could point to the tree (now much taller than it was when the event happened).

11:35 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

You made me want babies and horses and fearless mothering of a fearless child. This is possibly one of my favorite posts ever.

I want to knit her something with skulls and crossbones.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Brillig said...

Thanks for stopping in at my blog today!

I absolutely love this post. It's so beautiful. There is so much joy to be had in letting lose and just loving the world around you. Your daughter will have so many happy memories. She'll remember these feelings of joy and freedom and adventure and they will shape who she is, just as yours have shaped who you are. LOVE THIS!!!

12:23 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Writing a post as beautiful as this is fearless, too, you know.

As is wearing terry cloth shorts EVER again.

Two things I am not fearless enough to do.

2:24 AM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

those hands batting back.. Mama go away. Mama I DO IT.

I know. She can. She will.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Sandra said...

Oh how I love this. For so many, many, many reasons. It will stay with me. It will.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Oh that feeling!

That wildness inside...except now and again I still get it, and I growl at the tethers you describe.

And oh that other feeling...watching the kids and knowing.

I stole a horse too, but I got caught. LOL

8:53 AM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

I love this post.

And the dangerous book for boys has been getting a lot of press lately... I do wish they'd named it the d book for Kids... and I have boys!

9:13 AM  
Blogger Bon said...

it is just beginning for us. and now that you have framed it so beautifully, reminded me of what it was once to be small and magic and powerfully fearless, i too will be able to remember as i watch O, heart in my mouth, hoping he will not break.

amazing post.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the exact same way.


Loved this post hbm.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Magpie said...

Great post. I want my girl to be fearless and strong and smart and beautiful, too.

12:02 PM  
Blogger Chicky Chicky Baby said...

Beautiful post, my friend.

You've just summed up my biggest fears and my greatest wishes for my child.

But it cracks me up just a bit that you are a horse thief. In some countries you would have been shot. ;)

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I want my children to be thieves too.

Wait. That came out wrong.

Let's just say I want them to chase the wind and ride the rainbows.

Well said, Catherine.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this post. I've been thinking the same thing lately. I try with every fiber in my body to not be a protective parent. I want my child to leap for the skies. I think it's important for her that she fall and experience the exhilirating feeling of finding one's limits. What's happened to all of us that we're so protective of our kids?

Hmmm...maybe I'll just have her steal some horses. Knowing her, she'd probably love that.

12:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said... it's amazing how you shape the feelings into words.

My ds is already climbing trees (at 2 and a half), straining to get away from the safety of my arms.

I was worried, but this post has given me food for thought. I already had a horse--so the feeling of escaping happened every day, but it never got old.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Mama Sarita said...

A flood of memories filled my mommy head....crawling through drainage pipes, leaping off of cliffs and free falling into water, sneaking into back yards to jump on their trampolines, falling through ice in the tentatively frozen creek and walking home wet and freezing...

So many dangers, so much fun. So much scarier when I think of my littles...and yet...

8:28 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

I love this. I can't really relate because, as I sometimes regret, I was always cautious by nature, but it resonates in the memories and occasional current reality of wistfully watching other poeple doing those things and wishing I had it in me. Lovely.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Julie Marsh said...

If you want her to steal horses, can you at least teach her to tuck and roll when she falls?

8:21 PM  
Blogger theotherbear said...

It was a lovely post. Also funny, how many people are now inspired and want their kids to be thieves as well.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

I fractured my arm and split open my chin once going down a hill on a bike just like you described. My sister ran to the bottom and scooped me up, I remember asking her if I was dying. It felt like maybe I was. It was a very big hill, a paved main road out in the country...meant for cars and not children on bicycles.

Neither of mine manifest the danger gene yet...but this weekend on vacation, I was faced with my own reflection in BubTar's clinging and whining at being displaced from his home. He laid in my lap at the restaurant, begging to just go back to the hotel, and I saw myself there in my lap and felt like my own mother for just a moment.

12:11 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Oh, otherbear, I much prefer *borrowers.* This story should inspire one to (harmless) *borrowing.*

10:22 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

although I suppose it looks much less harmless if the borrower is wearing a skull and crossbones cap (Flutter - I'll take ten. She'll wear them every day.)

10:23 AM  
Blogger Michelle Constantinescu said...

Wonderful post - possibly the best yet!!!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...


I was a chicken but am happy to see that my children are not. I've had to bite my lip and sit on my hands at times, but it is worth it to see them fly on their own.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

flying is fun.so is dreaming of flying.which is all i manage these days.but while one foot is firmly planted on terra firma the other is inches off the ground and all my stories of magic and fairies and ...fall on very intent and curious little ears.LAVENDULA

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An amazing tribute to your daughter and memory of your childhood. How close these both seem, don't they? How quickly time has passed and we can relive it all through our children. Yes, shouldn't we all "tilt into the wind, aim at the sun"? Isn't that our birthrite on this incredible Mother Earth? Tomorrow, I will do just that. You reminded me...to always remember.
Thank you,

7:12 AM  
Blogger Damselfly said...

Wow. You are some kind of mom.

And WonderBaby looks fabulous!

5:18 PM  
Blogger Ruth Dynamite said...

Ahhhh. I could almost feel you stealing that horse. So exhilirating - wild, free, dangerous.

I wish the same for my kids, but I guess I just don't really want to know about it when it's happening, lest my over-protective mothering instinct kicks in and ruins it all.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glorious, beautiful post. I could almost picture you in flight upon that horse.

Belated birthday wishes to you and squeezes to your beautiful daughter. And I hope you are feeling much better soon.


3:30 PM  
Blogger ioio said...

You Horse.
Me Iron.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is completely awesome, that you were brave enough to do that at ELEVEN! Great post, and congrats on your perfect post award!

1:52 PM  
Blogger cstatman said...

Brilliant. My wife just pointed me to your blog, we are hoping to raise Tarzan (our 1 year old) with the same sense of wonderment and a can-do attitude.

In addition to the dangerous book, you might investigate "the boy mechanic" reprints. Most of it is fierce politically incorrect, and dangerous, but even just reading it inspires you to DO things with your child.

reprints here:

e-book of 1st book here, for a taste of what it is:

YAY! We all need to raise kids with sense of curiosity and daring. Not couch taters who excel at video games only.

Viva WonderBaby!

5:04 PM  

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