At the weekend we went for a hike. There’s a (not particularly big) mountain at the back of our village, and you can usually see paragliders floating down off it in the evening. You can also see a large red and white cross, the flag of the region, painted high up on the rocks. With everyone promising that this would be the last sunny weekend of the year, we decided to make the most of it.
A local parent assured us that the walk that took you next to the big painted flag was suitable for our daughter, who’s three.
‘Just hold her hand,’ he said, shrugging. To begin with, it was fine. We came across a giant swing, some cows and their bells, chilling in a field (lots of ‘poo cow,’ as she called it) and the CROCUS that is apparently a sign of the end of the summer.
A rather awesome rock hole we saw
As we wound our way down towards the edge of the mountain, I started to get nervous. Soon we were walking on an incredibly narrow path with a sheer cliff on one side and a big drop on the other. Although we were holding her hand the entire time, every time she took the slightest step to the left or right, I panicked.
‘No!’ I said. ‘Stay on the path!’
I know when my voice is giving away my fear, because she genuinely looks scared. If I’m asking her to clear her plate away after dinner, or to stop colouring in her leg so we can go to school, she knows that nothing serious will happen if she doesn’t do what I’m asking. Which, I guess, is why it takes her so long to do it.
But the times I’ve actually been scared (like the time I saw an enormous spider in the bathroom and couldn’t hide my horrified ‘oh’ in a bid to make her less of a spider worrier than me), she knows. Her face changes, she stops, and she looks at me. At which point I have to smile and say it’s fine, as I don’t want her to be burdened with my fear of her impending death.
Of course, she was fine. We sat down underneath the flag and ate our snacks. But I was tense the whole time we were there. My rational brain was telling me that we were very far from the edge, there was no way she could slip, and we were sat down anyway. My instinctual brain (the lizard brain, I think) was telling me to be very, very scared and attentive. It wasn’t the most relaxing of walks, after all.
Good view, not very peaceful though.
The constant fear of what might happen to your child is not something I really expected as part of parenthood. But from the moment I placed her into the moses basked next to me, I would lean over her (not too close, I didn’t want to wake her up) to check that she was still breathing.
A friend came to visit and said that she had friends that had also recently had babies.
‘I never realised before,’ she said, ‘that when people say they’re going to check on their kids when they’re sleeping, they’re actually checking if they’re alive.’
Yup, I can confirm it’s true. The interesting thing is, after three years, I’m kind of used to it. I don’t feel like that all the time, but just occasionally (like on the edge of a big cliff) I am reminded of the fragility of humanity, especially when it is encased in such a tiny form, and I exist for a while in a sort of half-crazed hysteria.
I would like to say that this realisation has given me a zest for life, an appreciation that I need to live every day like it’s my last, but when it’s accompanied by three years of broken sleep I think it’s hard to maintain the enthusiasm for that.
Had a bit of a swing at the end to calm myself down
Instead, I think it’s led to the noticing of tiny things. I’ve started keeping a journal where I write down the amusing or unusual things she says (she said she would be ‘four years new’ on her birthday, as she’s clearly not old). I’ve started learning the names of flowers and birds that we see on our walks. I’ve come to the realisation that there are all manner of bugs and scrumpled up leaves that are in fact quite beautiful, if I just stop and look at them.
A combination of her tiny attention and my big fear has resulted in a sort of observational clarity that I don’t think I’ve had since I was a child. Or maybe that’s sleep deprivation too. Either way, it’s rather lovely.
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