I’d have to say I ascribe to some manner of free range children philosophy of parenting. Part of that is intentional. I want my children to be fearless and self-possessed, and I think the best way to do that is not to impose fears on them. This is why I have developed the special “scream of amazement” technique. This is for when someone brings me a bug or spider and I shriek “AAAAAAAaaaarrroooooooo that’s soooo neat.” Gus went through a phase where he kept Daddy Long Legs as pets, setting them on his shoulder for rides. Shudder. I also think that free will is our greatest gift and we need to practice exercising it as early as possible, so leaving kids to their own devices to think things through on their own seems like a good idea. Another large part of my free range parenting is totally unintentional, merely a product of my overwhelmed incompetence and innate laziness. Keeping track of four little bodies zooming in four different directions all day is hard!
Despite the semi-organized chaos of my cat mothering somehow we’ve been very blessed to go through over six years with children with very few injuries. We’ve had the occasional skinned knee or bumped head, but otherwise everyone remains intact. So it was that when I heard Gus wailing last week with JD following behind saying “sorry, sorry, sorry” it was with rolling eyes that I stood up to investigate. Gus howls as loudly for a spilled drop of water as for dismemberment. As I came round the corner though, I realised this was a bit different than the usual brotherly tiff. Blood was pouring down Gus’ face while he clamped a hand over his forehead and eye. Quickly moving the hand and being reassured that the eye itself was completely fine, I realized he had some sort of head wound. Luckily, I had witnessed similar injuries on the playground as a child and could tell myself it was most likely superficial since they bleed profusely regardless. I scooped up the little fellow and went to find Mike, who has taken more required first aid courses in his life than just about anybody outside the medical profession. As Mike took the screaming Gus down the hall to the bathtub to assess things I quickly went to reassure JD that his brother would be ok and that nobody was mad at him. He had accidentally knocked Gus over into a metal corner of the rowing machine. Having executed all my duties I then promptly lay down flat in the middle of the floor and proceeded to feel deeply sick.
The screams from the bathroom continued for some time but Mike and Uncle Matt’s occasional laughter at Gus’ typically hilarious commentary (“But DAAAAAAAD I already HAD a bath today!!!!!”) reassured me that all would be well. Somehow though, this did not help me. Every time I thought about the blood spurting from his head a new wave of faintness and nausea would wash over me. As the drama drew to a close and Gus began to splash happily in the finally clear water Mommy continued to moan ashen faced on the floor. Dinner happened. Bedtime happened. Mommy remained prostrate. I went in and kissed everyone goodnight, with a special hug for the wounded warrior, already milking the injury for all it was worth. (“Since I hurt my head, you should probably never cut my hair again.”) Then I sat on the couch and watched mindless television while trying to recover.
It was really quite pathetic. I felt like a character in a novel who needed smelling salts or a swig of brandy to combat the vapours. I should have swooned onto a divan while fanning myself. Really, nothing much had happened. I kept imagining if he really HAD landed eye first, or if the injury had been worse. And I also became hyper aware of how many other horrible things could happen every day any time any one of my kids was out of sight. Choking, falling, drowning, burning… and then there are all the invisible things that could hurt them as I sat there watching, viruses, bacteria…. Yup, I would need to tie them all to my apron strings and douse us all in sanitizer starting first thing tomorrow. This rather mild little incident was a reminder of how easily things can go wrong and also of just how much I love my kids.
I mean, I know I love them more than anything but luckily day to day I forget what that means. I would truly rather bleed myself than see them bleed. I would rather die than lose them. That kind of love is awe-ful and terrifying. If you combine that love with fear instead of faith and hope you really can’t function at all. Thank heaven I’ve been lazy and disorganized for a lot longer than I’ve been fearful and so my natural parenting style has quickly regained supremacy. As I write this sitting by the window I glance out at the kids eating a picnic lunch while admiring the fire they built this morning “all by themselves” out of the embers from last night’s marshmallow roast. They are happy, healthy, confident, and safe….enough. I am always watching and listening and trying to keep them from harm. But may God and his angels help me. Nobody is totally safe. Life isn’t totally safe. That’s part of the beauty of it, and a whole lot of the anxiety.