Being rational and reasonable doesn’t mean avoiding all the risks.

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.

Dealing with the Aftermath

When you’re trundling along, then your world is turned upside down, how do you learn to trundle again?

I’m not a psychologist of any kind. I have no great insight or magic cures. In fact I’m right in the middle of trying to work this out for myself right now.

So think of this more as musings than a How To guide.

In the week when Esme got sick, I got angry.

Of course I was sad. I was stressed. I was waiting for the worst to happen. But I was also very angry that what had happened was so pointless.

I was angry with myself for not protecting her.

I was angry with the fact that there was no magical cure.

I was angry that I was powerless.

When you’re angry and you have nothing to blame, the easiest thing is to turn it inwards.

I couldn’t be angry at the foxglove. I couldn’t be angry at a just-turned-2 year old who liked eating things. I couldn’t be angry at the hospital who were doing everything in their power. There was no focus.

I could be angry at myself for not reminding the older children that morning of the dangers of plants. I could be angry at myself for not checking where they were sitting for foxgloves. I could be angry at myself for not watching them every second. I could be angry at myself for not seeing it happen when it happened. I could be angry at myself for not getting to a hospital the second she’d eaten them. I could be angry at myself for being so helpless.

But none of it was helpful.

Anger is a normal and natural reaction to something bad happening. In the short term it can fuel you. It can keep you going when you’re exhausted. It can keep you putting one foot in front of the other when you are so tired.

But there comes a point where anger drains you. Where all it does is takes your energy away from the good things.

There comes a point where you have to let it go.

But how?

People say things happen for a reason. I don’t believe this. I’ve never believed this. Things happen. Full stop. And then you have to get on with your life and try to deal with what happened.

People tell themselves stories. They say “if this bad thing hadn’t happened, then it wouldn’t have led to this good thing”.

Stories genuinely help. They are in our control. We can decide on the story.

This blog is part of my story.

At first I thought everyone knew foxgloves were dangerous, so I couldn’t help the world by spreading the word.

But we met many medical professionals who didn’t know. Many friends who admitted in the same situation they would never have been able to suggest a plant to doctors.

So maybe I could create a point, create a purpose. Maybe Esme’s bad experience would lead to a greater awareness. That someone else’s child would be saved the ordeal.

I had to balance that with the fact that I don’t want to cause panic either.

This is rare!

It’s nowhere near as dangerous as an un-netted trampoline or a hanging blind-cord in your living room. Was it necessary?

I’ve had some responses saying that they can’t see why I’d point out what is public knowledge.

I’ve had far more responses saying that people either didn’t know that foxgloves were poisonous at all, or that they hadn’t realised they could be fatal.

I think that it’s easy to assume that just because you know something, everyone else does too.

There are many poisonous plants. But there’s something particularly enticing about foxgloves. They’re soft and they’re furry, and the flowers look like fairy hats.

So I decided sharing the story would become a part of my healing.

Telling people about a traumatic event is always a good thing. Be it your husband, your friend, your GP or counsellor. There’s something about taking the words out of your head and saying them aloud.

If you can’t find the words yet, start to write them. Put them on paper. Just for you. Just empty your head.

Sometimes people try to help by telling you how lucky you are. It’s true that I’m lucky. I am ridiculously lucky. I have so many things to be grateful for.

But focusing on the positives when I’m trying to deal with the negatives has always been problematic for me.

It’s really important to think about the good things. It’s vital. You must. But you need to make room to think about the bad things too.

Not all the time. If you find time has passed and all you’re thinking about are the negatives, then please talk to a GP. It’s what they are there for. No one wants you to struggle alone.

But if you find that you’re mostly ok, but sometimes need to shout, “It’s unfair. It is unfair. IT IS BLOODY UNFAIR.” Then in those moments, let yourself feel what your brain is trying to make you feel.

People may say “life’s unfair” or “well, yes, but we all have unfair things happen”. None of that is relevant. It’s dismissive. It’s belittling. It’s basically not listening.

It’s important to say to yourself that yes, it was unfair. Find a way to accept that.

It wasn’t some karmic justice. Karma doesn’t exist. It’s a nice thought.

Bad things happen to good people.

It’s not fair.

But it’s not the end either. We all get to choose. We get to choose the story we take forward. Everyday you get to write it in little ways. It’s not about trying to forget. Because that never works. It’s about acknowledging what happened, and moving on to new things.

Sometimes I still get angry. I blame myself. I say it’s unfair. I worry for the future.

When those times happen I give myself a bit of time to feel those feelings.

And then I get back to living in the now. I look at my beautiful family, I listen to the birds, I appreciate the moment I’m actually living in, and ignore the ever-growing pile of laundry, and it gives me some peace.

I quite like the analogy of my life as a lake. Someone chucked this huge rock into the calm waters. I’m still riding the ripples.

The more time goes by, the smaller the ripples, and the farther apart they are. When those moments come, if I try to fight them, then I make them bigger. But if I let them wash over me, accept them, talk to someone if I need to, I get back to the calm water.

One day the ripples will be so small I’ll barely notice them. Maybe a thought. A brief memory.

Maybe one day I’ll see a foxglove and just think “how beautiful”.

For now I’ll just ride the ripples.