Spring has well and truly sprung, and for the first time, after a long and water-logged winter, we are heading back out into the garden.
I am going to be honest and say it doesn’t feel as safe as it did. I think the children are now utterly sick of my quick reminders not to eat anything, or to let anyone else eat anything, or to tell me if they think someone might have eaten anything, or or or…
I’ve spent a bit of time checking there’s nothing immediately deadly where the children will play, but I can’t quite seem to be able to get rid of the niggling doubt that I’ve missed something.
I won’t be planting potatoes this year, or rhubarb. There won’t be any dangerous leaves in my vegetable patch. Not yet. Not until she’s bigger.
I know that fear stems from failing to spot the danger when it happened. I know that I was too blasé about the likelihood of any of the children eating a poisonous plant. Or perhaps I was right to be blasé and actually we are just a strange anomaly.
All parenting is risk assessment. We look at how likely a bad thing happening is, we weigh that against the benefits of doing things and the negatives of missing out.
I’m sure the risk of me crashing whilst driving the kids to school this morning, far outweigh the risks of any of the children coming to harm playing in the garden. But the garden makes me feel more anxious, for obvious reasons.
In a car you reduce risk by driving sensibly, using appropriate child seats, there are ways to minimise risk.
And that’s all you can do. Minimise risk and then let your children live.
I keep telling myself that once Esme is a vaguely rational human, she will understand, and the fear will go. But until then I want to keep her safe.
The urge to strap her into a swing or a chair is sometimes strong. I want to wrap her up in cotton wool. For the selfless reason of keeping her safe, and for the selfish reason, that I want freedom from the fear.
But then she’d miss out. She wouldn’t get to feel the warm grass on her bare feet in the summer. She wouldn’t get to lie on her back and look for monsters in the clouds. She wouldn’t get to watch snails unfurl, or worms wiggle, or hunt for grasshoppers and watch them leap. She wouldn’t get to touch and feel and enjoy the world. Not until she was rational. Then maybe she’d be too rational to enjoy it at all.
How many two year olds worry about the consequences of digging in mud? How many adults wouldn’t bother because they’d have to clean up?
I won’t be having Foxgloves in the garden any time soon. But I will one day. The bumble bees like them, and I like bumble bees.
One day Esme will be sensible, but if she gets there by being restricted, if she gets there by not experiencing as much, then I’ve failed her. I’m not going to fail her again.
Which means for now I’ll have to watch her that little bit closer. I’ll be that little bit less comfortable. Because to choose not to let her live would be to take the wrong lesson from her experience. It would be taking a meaning from her hurt, that would hurt her more.
And that can only be a bad thing.