I worry. I worry about lots of things. Only a couple of weeks ago, I cheerfully said “white rabbit!” to welcome in the new month, before blowing off loudly in the confines of my shower. I then started to overthink the consequences of my actions, speculating that the black squares of misery and misfortune on the Gods’ chess board might be reserved solely for the flatulent and disrespectful. Is that bad luck, I thought? Has my farty observance of this superstitious ritual now cursed November? Should I apologise and repeat the saying again…or will my repeating it only serve to amplify the bad luck that will likely befall me this month?
With this level of neuroticism, I’m probably the worst person in the world to have a child. Yet remarkably it’s now 14 months since I was stood in the labour ward of my local hospital, randomly plugging wires into various jack plug sockets on a TENS machine, like an inept 1920s telephonist attempting to connect a cacophony of angry waiting callers. The birth of my son was the best day of my life – but it also ushered in a new era of worry.
When my wife and I went out for our first walk around the village with the pram shortly after my son was born, I remember becoming preoccupied with the concern that a falling conker might drop from a horse chestnut tree and impact his fontanel like a rock smashing into soft fruit, killing him instantly. I could hear conkers hitting the ground all around me – sounding like oversized stone finials toppling from imposing gateposts – so I pulled up the sun canopy on his pram and spent the rest of the walk looking distrustfully skywards.
In the early months, I also remember my wife looking at me wearily (with an expressive hint of subdued anger) when, following the sudden onset of a teary screaming session, I tried to diagnose the cause of my son’s meltdown. I subsequently floated the idea that his reflux medicine might have reacted with his teething granules and “made him high”. Not even my ‘new parent’ membership card could excuse that level of barefaced stupidity.
But with every passing day and developmental milestone on the gross motor scale conquered, the more worry there is to plague me. Increased mobility and insatiable curiosity = DANGER!
Coasters drop from the coffee table like ceramic guillotines, landing mere inches from my son’s tiny toes. The bookshelf towers over his soft play area like the Burj Khalifa, fuelling his newfound love of climbing absolutely anything and everything. When I look at the stair gate at the top of the stairs, I don’t see an impenetrable, child-proofed safety feature; I only see a mechanism waiting to spontaneously fail, springing open the retractable barrier (or ‘gateway to oblivion’, as I prefer to call it). All rooms, everywhere, have become angular suites of death and life-changing injury. I could probably find a sharp edge on a cotton wool ball if I looked hard enough, so I’ll now have to source an alternative soft material to wrap my son in.
Of course, these are all worries in a period of my son’s life when I actually have broad control of the situation. If he wanders towards something that I don’t want him to, I can simply pick him up and relocate him (similar to how one might parent a spider). He also has no external influences; no friends to lead him astray or persuade him to retrieve a lost frisbee from an electricity substation. So in many ways, these are the golden days.
Because when I think about what I used to get up to as a child (and I’m talking about unremarkable, normal behaviour between the ages of 7-12) I get shivers thinking about the future, when my son heads out on his bike to explore and play…but without me there to watch over him. Unless I invest in a drone, that is.
I think about the time I fell into a river in the dead of winter while attempting to retrieve a football, and how the shock of the icy cold water around my chest robbed me of my breath – but thankfully not my ability to claw wildly at the muddy bank to save myself. I also remember heading off one day to venture inside a nearby World War II pillbox, when not even the surrounding human shit and drugs paraphernalia could dampen my thirst for history.
I also used to be attracted to building sites and was never happier than when I was splashing around in rainbow-coloured puddles of industrial effluent. Discarded sheets of damaged chipboard propped up on breeze blocks became bike ramps. And when we weren’t performing spectacular 20cm-high stunt jumps, my friends and I were darting through partially constructed houses, chasing each other through a sea of spent nails and shards of plastic. It was like we had free entry into Tetanus World.
Still, those were great days of play and exploration…and occasional stupidity. But most importantly, I survived, and made my own decisions and mistakes.
The question is: will I be able to let go and allow my own son the same freedom that my parents allowed me – but without worrying myself into an early grave? After all, there are lakes and rivers to drown in, trees to fall from, and hit-and-run maniacs speeding through built-up areas, not to mention all the horrific dangers that my mind can conjure up, which may not even exist in reality.
Anyway, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. He can’t even walk yet. But in the meanwhile, there’s no harm in just looking for an affordable drone.