When you become a parent, things that didn’t used to be scary become scary.
When my nephew was a day or two old his mother and I took him for a walk. I marched happily along the sidewalk, carrying the baby, while she started cowering by the hedges. Suddenly the cars were too loud, she felt. And they whizzed by too close to us. We took the baby home.
Later, when I had my own kids, I felt the same thing. I could no longer drive in Sri Lanka with them in the back seat. I developed a flying problem. I noticed that my mind would wander off in horrible directions when I was least expecting it. Before I had kids, if I saw a child standing near the edge of a ditch, I’d think ‘Hmm. Hope that little guy doesn’t fall in. Probably wind up with a bad scrape.’ Now, if one of my kids stands near a ditch, my mind involuntarily does this:
- Calculates how far I am from the child.
- Assesses the quantity, position, orientation and permeability of any obstacles between me and the child.
- Mentally locates cell phone or nearest pay phone.
- Scans area for bystanders.
- Itemizes things within reach that can be used to stop bleeding. T-shirt? Handkerchief? Is it clean?
- Plays out the scenario of seeing child fall in ditch, leaping to the rescue, clearing all obstacles, jumping in ditch, scanning for head injuries, assessing whether or not to move child, scooping up child, yelling to that bystander to call 911, describing to him/her exactly where my phone is and how to relay our precise location to the dispatcher.
- Wait – where’s the other child while this is happening? Silently rehearse a stern voice telling the non-ditched child to sit down now.
- Times out variations of scenario to find most efficient one.
This all happens in a split second. Meanwhile Akka or Malli is surefootedly negotiating the edge of the ditch and possibly gearing up to start whining for a snack.
The airplane scenarios are not good. The busy-road scenarios are terrifying.
On the subway I imagine what I’d do if I got off but one of them didn’t. Or vice versa. (Answer: if I’m on the train but you’re not, put your back against the wall, sit down and stay there. I’ll come back. If you’re on the train but I’m not, get off at the next station, put your back against the wall, sit down and stay there. I’ll come and get you.)
Then I remember to breathe. I learned some basic meditation to get myself back on airplanes. Air goes in. Air goes out.
Think about air going in.
Think about air going out.
This is how the air feels going in.
This is how the air feels going out.
This is what it feels like in my nostrils going in. It’s cool.
This is what it feels like going out. It’s warm.
The kids are fine.