Regular readers will know that I have two children, Toots and Bub. They have completely changed my life. They are the best things in my life, brought to me by my wonderful wife. I have feelings and thoughts about them that are overwhelming and joyous, feelings that I couldn’t have imagined having before I had kids. It’s very strange, but probably not that strange at all.
But I have learnt that whilst you get all this good stuff, and start blubbing when your kids first sing along to ‘In the Night Garden’, you also become burdened with the most crippling worry. And that worry never disappears and gradually, almost imperceptibly, it becomes bigger and bigger. I’ve been worried for a long time about Toots’ first boyfriend and whether I’ll like him (or her; she might be a lesbian), and whether she’s going to experiment with drugs and when she’ll first have sex. And she’s not four yet. The recent case of April Jones struck a real chord, where before having children it would have just been another sad story. I can’t imagine what I’d do if my kids were lost or hurt or taken away, and I can only imagine that this feeling deepens and strengthens as they get older (parents of teenagers may beg to differ).
And so it was, over the weekend that Toots had her first significant accident. Whilst she followed me round the house cleaning up, I opened the back door to put some stuff outside only to step back inside, close the door and find Toots’ thumb between the door and frame. There was momentary, split-second silence and our eyes met, hers looking pained and unsure. And then the screams and the wails started. There was a big red thumb, blood, broken skin, a purple nail and blood on the door frame. She wailed for an hour, she visibly shook in pain, she couldn’t eat or drink and she was far from the relaxed, happy, easy going little girl that was my Toots.
And given this was a first significant accident, I didn’t know what to do as she wailed, shook, cried and failed to eat or drink. I thought that she might go into some kind of apoplectic fit and die from the shock, though I’d never heard of death by apoplectic fit after trapping a finger and was fairly sure that trapped fingers was a fairly common child-related accident. I Googled, ‘child crushed fingers,’ hoping very much that Google chose not to show me a number of small pictures of crushed fingers in the results. I was reassured by what I read, but it didn’t stop me checking on her all evening once she’d gone to sleep, just in case she’d slipped from us at some point. I could barely sleep overnight thinking about the pain that door closing would have imposed on a little finger, my demonstration to her of the danger of doors closing using a carrot only serving to make me more nauseous whilst seeking to drift off.
Of course, the following morning Toots was much better; the finger hadn’t developed into a giant swollen blueberry, and the nail was still attached and the finger was in fact less red than it had been the previous evening. Toots even said it didn’t hurt. It’s got better each day since, and she no longer holds the hand gingerly. She’s been asking for a bit too much chocolate ever since, and my guilt has allowed her to have it.
So what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that all of those feelings of losing one’s child, or one’s child coming to harm, are very close to the surface; I’ve learnt that we can jump to very wide conclusions about mortality resulting from relatively minor injuries, and that we (or, rather, I) can speculate rather stupidly about what might kill a child. And I have learnt that children are human, but very resilient and robust ones who need to have experiences to learn about life, including bad ones. And so do I. Though I suspect that won’t change my overly-protective and overly neurotic response to something happening to my kids, and long may that last as well.