If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 10 months as a parent, it’s how to be helpless.

It must be a primal instinct, that when our children cry (and often our children alone, in their nearly indistinctive way, in a pitch and tone familiar only to those who gave birth to it) we’re drawn to panic. No matter how small. No matter how insignificant.

We’re tied to that sound, to try to change that sound, to try to get rid of that sound; that sound, which signifies pain or sadness or fright, weakness, a need for saving, for protection.

When Sierra cries, my first thoughts are to ignore it. It takes a lot of guts to do that, restraint I often give up on. We’ve tried to teach her to get back to sleep on her own. But those cries. Oh, those cries make it so hard.

I’ve learned to be helpless to her sadness. I understand that not everything can be fixed, and that often all that’s needed is some proximity, a little closeness, something familiar.

I’ve learned to be helpless to her pain. There is little I can do to ease teething; a little medicine, a teething tablet, a hug and reassurance.

I’ve learned to be helpless. I can ease the crying, but I can never stop it altogether. It’s her way of communicating. My job is to do what I can.

But that’s not all.

I’ve learned to be helpless to her future, knowing that the only thing we can do is offer her the right tools, to guide the way and hope she rarely takes the wrong exit.

I’ve learned to be helpless to fate. She is my daughter. But she is not me. Her life will be vastly different, often in a way I wouldn’t choose on my own. I’ve learned to be helpless to the fact that while she may share many of the same traits, I cannot do anything to change what she will become. I can guide. I can suggest. I can hold back and push forward and attempt to ply her personality by any means possible, but it won’t work.

She is her own person. Even now.

So when she cries, I do what I can. Sometimes it’s not much, and I feel helpless. Completely helpless.

I marvel that someday, she’ll be making her own decisions, choosing her own foods, clothing, friends, locations, careers, future, life.

And I feel content. I may be helpless. But that’s all part of being a parent. That’s what makes it all so much fun. To wonder what the future will bring.

To realize that, as much as I may try, everything is out of my hands. Helpless, totally helpless, and blown away by the process of firsthand learning.

This was lovingly handwritten on May 29th, 2008