I’ve been reflecting on what gets triggered in me when my kids suffer.
See, I’m a bit of a wuss, really. I will happily give sky-diving, scuba diving – any kind of diving, to be honest – a big miss. I vomit at speed, which kind of put an end to rollercoasters and amusement parks early on in my life.
Even the word ‘adventure’ gives me mild palpitations, implying, as it does, that there may very well not be a warm shower or a cosy bed waiting for me at the end of a long day. I favour ‘luxurious’ as an adjective to describe one’s holiday destination, conjuring up fluffy pillows and the like. Getting caught in a thunderstorm, or in a rip, or fronting up with wildlife of any sort, is not my idea of fun. I do not court danger, nor seek out its adrenalin shots.
Ungenerous onlookers might demote my risk-averse nature to ‘boring’. So, let me be clear: when it comes to my children, this is precisely what I hope for them, a boring and uneventful life. I pray that they never have to flee in the dead of night, watch their homes burn, run for their lives or hide for cover. I would be perfectly happy if they never encountered a snake or a deadly spider. I want them to have the fewest available opportunities to hurt themselves.
Of course, this is a delusion. I have banned my kids from engaging in inherently dangerous activities. Jordan wanted to play rugby when he was ten and I said, ‘No son of mine …’ Finally, after weeks of nagging, I relented, and a week afterwards he broke his wrist playing tips at a friend’s house. A year later he broke a toe at school sport while mucking around with a friend on the beach.
The following year he broke his tibia and fibula one pleasant Sunday afternoon while kicking a soccer ball around on the field across the road by himself. It is obvious that all the inherently dangerous activities I am keeping him from are far less dangerous than life itself.
A friend of mine lost his wife from breast cancer when their son was three years old. He allowed his son to ride a bike to school along the busiest streets and even to ride a motorbike. I guess tragedy taught him that ‘protecting our loved ones’ is a fallacy.
Parents like me inch from protecting our kids from ‘the dangers out there’ to an eternal hover. We steer them away from bad crowds and friends with creepy tattoos and eyebrow studs. We encourage them to only date nice boys and girls. We want them never to be stood up, rejected, or have their hearts broken – never to experience loss or pain. We want them to always be happy. We want them to not be human.
The reason is that we have to watch. If there’s one thing worse than suffering, it is watching our children suffer. I would exchange places with a child who is being bullied, who is afraid, anxious, needs an operation or is in physical pain. I would take double to shield them.