We’re on an outing, at the beach. We’ve come with friends to the dolphin training center, which is on the sea, accessible by a floating ramp and platform. It’s windy, and raining, and the platform undulates as we stumble across it.
“Don’t run,” I shout to my son. “It’s dangerous!” There are no railings. The sea is cold and deep.
In the past, I’ve seen my son fall into a pond, fall off an eight-foot high rock wall, and tip over my daughter’s wheelchair as he was running down the corridor, pushing, in a luxury hotel. He came home from camp with a huge gash on his knee – an injury incurred when he tipped over in a canoe. He’ll have a scar. My son is accident-prone.
But I’m the only one shouting out, “Don’t go too close to the edge! It’s dangerous!”
My friends say nothing to their kids.
Later, on the beach, the children are drawn to a large dinosaur sculpture. It’s slippery and offers no clear purchase. Of course, my daughter wants to climb around as well. Not a good idea, I think. It’s dangerous.
My friend’s daughter stands on top of the dinosaur’s back holding a big stick. What if she fell? I think. But I don’t say anything. My friend says nothing. “Be careful,” I say to my son.
“Hand her up to me,” my friend says about my daughter. So I hoist her up, and my friend holds her. I pray that she doesn’t get overexcited and go spastic. It’s slippery, and she is heavy and hard to control.
Then my son starts goofing around. He is suddenly hanging from the dinosaur’s neck, afraid to fall. He grabs onto my friend’s leg and brings everyone down with him. I try to catch them all, but I can’t. They fall.
I gather up my sobbing daughter, who seems more scared and betrayed than hurt. My friend will have bruises. My son goes down to the shore to brood; he feels responsible. But I know that it was my fault. I knew it was dangerous. And yet I also know that I must allow them to take risks once in awhile. It’s very hard, though. I couldn’t keep my children safe inside my body, so now I do everything I can – maybe too much – to keep them safe in the world.