Protective perspective

September 2007

Dear Dave,

You’re right. Kids make you worry. Two kids is twice the worry and you only have half as much available time to fit all the worrying in. You need to concentrate your worry on major risks.

If only I knew what those were...

I seem to spend a great deal of my life shouting warnings about imminent catastrophe:

‘Don’t do that!’

‘Look where you’re going!’

‘Watch what you’re doing!’

‘Don’t stand there!’

‘Don’t touch that!’

Unfortunately, my voice usually carries the same sense of urgency whether ‘that’ is a sweet on the ground, my glasses, a python or an electrical substation. If the kids are doing something liable to cause injury, I will often throw in, ‘It’s dangerous!’ If they’re doing something hugely stupid, I might go so far as to say, ‘It’s very dangerous!’

This really doesn’t give them a particularly clear picture of risk.

‘Stop waving your fork around. It’s dangerous!’ isn’t much of a step up from, ‘Watch out! Careful with your milk!’ In fact, the latter is actually likely to create more of an impression, thanks to the words escaping my throat in a frantic scream as I lunge across the table to catch a teetering cup. My kids probably live more in fear of giving me extra cleaning than they do of impaling their siblings with kitchen utensils.

I guess this will make them normal. It’s hard to realistically determine probabilities and to weigh likely rewards against possible disasters. It’s not surprising the kids don’t have a clue. I don’t know what the most likely calamities might be and how badly they could go. Running with scissors doubtless is fairly dangerous (if they have a pointed end) and so is hopping with knives but how dangerous is dancing with a spoon? What level of warning should I use? Does it depend on the size of the spoon? The style of dance? The proximity of crockery?

Or should I let the poor kid enjoy herself for a change without me prophesying doom?

The media doesn’t help. I saw an item on the main evening news the other week that was all shock and horror about the dangers of hazardous drinking. A large glass of wine every night is a hazardous level of consumption! Well-to-do rich people are drinking too much! Shock! Horror! Not once was it mentioned in what way this level of drinking was hazardous, nor to how great an extent. They did, however, imply a causal relationship between having an expensive house and drinking too much. This means that it’s not the drinking that’s the root cause of danger – it’s buying a mansion.

As I said, the media isn’t much help.

Then again, neither is personal experience when it comes to assessing most risks. I know from experience that if we go to the swing park there’s a high probability that someone will scrape a knee but what’s the chance of one of the kids getting snatched? Considering I’m not in the middle of a custody battle, vanishingly small, most likely, but all I’ve got to go on is hearsay and media reports. And I’ve already established that the media isn’t much help.

Nope, it’s very hard to tell what’s truly worth worrying about. Still, based on the amount of thought and effort I put into preventing disaster, these are the dangers I feel most threaten my children:

10. Food. Between obesity and food poisoning, additives and E numbers, E. Coli and bird flu, there are any number of food related scares in circulation. I’m considering moving the kids over to a diet of lime juice and crackers, just to be on the safe side.

9. Going to hospital. Hospitals are full of germs and sick people. Must avoid.

8. Dirty hands. Dirty hands are covered in germs and cause sick people. Must wash.

7. My old Xbox. The instruction manual contains only one warning about photosensitive seizures but FOUR about not dropping the thing on a small child. Do the maths.

6. Dog poo. We have some inconsiderate dog owners round our way. I’m constantly telling the kids to look where they’re about to put their feet. Strangely, this usually makes them look behind them, peering over their shoulder to see if they’ve stepped in it already. This is not hugely safe or convenient. I see dog poo on the pavement and shout at the kids, they look behind them, step in it and then walk into a lamp post.

5. Coffee. It’s hot and spillable, which is a dangerous combination. Luckily, it’s usually gone cold by the time I get a chance to drink it.

4. Traffic. The boys have got the hang of the ‘Stop’ part of ‘Stop, Look & Listen’ but haven’t yet realised that the other two are quite tricky if they’re talking at me. A couple of days ago, while we were halfway across a road, I told them to cease wittering about Mario and look for cars. This merely led to even worse distraction. Fraser promptly shouted, “Look! There’s a car,” and pointed at a vehicle that was not only in the wrong direction but also on a different road. Handy.

3. Each other. When the boys were younger, I turned round from the washing-up to find Fraser stabbing Lewis in the head with a fork as they sat quietly eating their tea.

2. Themselves. On closer examination, the number of triple puncture wounds suggested that Lewis had been letting him do this for a while. (Ho well, at least they weren’t making a mess...)

1. Zombies. I watched 28 Days Later recently. Since then, most of my spare brainpower at any given moment has been devoted to locating emergency exits and suitable materials for barricades, in case of the unexpected arrival of a horde of the living dead. It may not be a very likely threat but its consequences would be catastrophic. Best to be prepared.

That’s the list. Essentially, if I gave each of the kids an eating utensil and a turkey sandwich while I was drinking coffee and we all followed a dog along beside a busy road on the way to the hospital, that’s the most dangerous situation imaginable. Unless it started raining Xboxes... or zombies.

I suppose I could take comfort in the fact that we all had clean hands.

Right, I’m off to purchase emergency plastic bags, a chainsaw, some bear-traps and a shotgun in readiness for the inevitable undead apocalypse. Got to keep the kids safe! And it beats worrying about which secondary school to choose...

Yours in a woman’s world,


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