Originally published in the newspaper, Hill Rag, January 2009.

Just the other day, as The Boy and I were entering Turtle Park, I crossed paths with a young mother exiting with her daughter.  The girl ran ahead, onto the sidewalk and her mother shouted, “Danger!”  The little girl stopped and turned in the gateway, dutifully waiting for her mother.  “Danger!” her mother repeated.  I wondered if “Danger” was the little girl’s name. With celebrities calling their offspring “Jett,” “Bronx Mowgli” and “ESPN”, what isn’t a name these days? But as the child wiggled one foot out onto the sidewalk, outside the safe confines of the park fence, her mother yelped, “Danger!” for a third time. 

Danger?  My own Spidey senses were alerted.  I looked up and down the sidewalk in the hope of identifying the approaching evil so as to protect The Boy.  I am his protectress, after all, am I not?  As I scanned the area I saw a police cruiser, a man on a bike and a chunky woman walking an even chunkier basset hound.  No danger here.

With Danger Daughter’s hand clenched in her own, Neurotic Mom inched her way to the nearby crosswalk, repeating “danger, danger, danger” like it was a personal meditation in terror.  I couldn’t take my eyes off them.  It was intoxicatingly weird.  As they landed at the crosswalk the orange hand changed to the walking man and the mother released Danger Daughter’s hand and proclaimed, “Okay, you’re safe!”

I wanted to say, “Lady, just cause a light turns green doesn’t mean you’re not going to get plowed down by a distracted bus driver or mid-day alcoholic.”  But I didn’t, because I was too caught up in the joyous, liberated romp of the little girl, running the distance of the magical safety zone until she came to a screeching halt at the opposite sidewalk, bracing herself to re-enter the Danger Zone. 

Danger Girl is in for it, I thought to myself. 

I should know.  I am still in therapy trying to stave off the inherited paranoia my mother gifted me–the paranoia I have to repress with two tight hands to protect The Boy from the reign of fear.  When I was six, my mother told me that if the Man in the Black Van ever tried to abduct me, and said he wouldn’t hurt me if I went quietly, I should kick and thrash and bite and scream, because: “It’s better for him to kill you right there in the street where we can find you, then have him drag you off, rape you and kill you and leave your body god only knows where!”

Of course, all I was thinking at this point was: “But did he get my allowance?”

No matter how successful I think I’ve been at beating back the loony litany of paranoid mom-isms, they are still right there on the tip of my tongue, ready to be fired off at a moment’s notice.

Be careful… are you okay…hot, hot, hot!… DANGER!

And they’re important parts of parenting.  We are protectors.  My mother’s mistake was never telling me to trust my intuition.   It’s good to be aware.  But there’s a fine line between vigilant and paranoid.  You have to develop some trust in yourself, some trust in human kind.  Because the alternative is to always be scared.  And haven’t we all been living that way for the past eight years with ill effect?

Life is short and unpredictable and you don’t want to go into the next life (wherever it is) with crappy Earth stories. Barraging The Boy with my fears could cause him to miss out on something that, while scary, could be the experience of his lifetime.

As The Boy and I rolled onto the playground he dropped my hand and made for the slide.  Gangbusters he scrambled up the shiny metal surface, slipping and sliding all over the place, his still developing sea legs wobbling in all directions.  Just as I was about to call out to him with the standard company line of “NO!”–The Husband has officially dubbed me the “No Person”–The Boy fell on his face. 

I ran to him, thinking, ”Lesson 453: slides are dangerous,” but before I could scoop him up and check for dings and dents, he turned to me and smiled, a goofy mix of euphoria and independence. 

 

It was my turn to learn.  Lesson 454: Slides are fun. 

 

 

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