Rational Deviation

Last week, we went with my in-laws to pick up their new television. Ours was the only car large enough to carry the set, so we drove seperately. Ian rode in their car on the way home.

About five minutes from the store, I glanced into the rearview mirror. My heart stopped. Ian’s seat was empty, the tangled shoulder straps sitting where my son should’ve been.

Of course, the rational part of me knew that my son was safe, with his grandparents. (Probably safer, since my father-in-law actually obeys the speed-limit.) But the portion of my brain devoted to fatherhood knew only that my son was gone.

I turned – hesitantly – to Kelly and asked, ‘Ian’s with your folks, right?’

‘Yes,’ she replied, but only, I suspect, because the otherwise embarrassing silence would’ve been too much for my pride to bear.

What is that? Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, why does the Father in me insist that my son is constantly in mortal peril?

This happens a lot. Whenever I carry Ian across a bridge, I always imagine that I’m two steps away from dropping him over the edge, to be mauled by tigers or to plummet into a ravine. I have never, ever dropped Ian.

Last week, we were looking at rental cars in the National parking lot. I ducked to glance into a car while Kelly, her mother, and Ian wandered away. When I stood, I couldn’t see Ian. I saw Kelly’s mom walking toward me – Ian wasn’t in tow. I knew that neither Kelly nor her mother would ever let Ian wander through a parking lot, but…

I shouted, ‘Where’s Ian?’

‘What?’

My throat closed. ‘Where’s Ian?’ my father-in-law and I both shouted. This time, very nearly a scream. As my mother-in-law came closer, I finally saw Ian trotting safely behind her.

I felt like fainting. Someone finally snipped the wire that had been holding me up and on my toes, and I sank into my shoes.

Will it always be like this? Will the confidence I have in my family and friends never be enough when it comes to Ian? Or is the problem not with my confidence in them, but in myself?

And every time I forgot to call my mother when I made it safely back to the dorms, did she clench her hands and tap her feet, waging a silent, civil war between Rational Woman and Loving Mother?

As I thought about my paranoid tendancies earlier this week, I received the poem below in an e-mail. I think it explains what’s happening to me better than I ever could:

‘Having Children’ – by Barbara Tanner Angell

A siren goes by,
the scream cuts through me
even though my child is home.
For a moment I think…

Where am I?
In the middle of the night
a cry, dreamed
or heard, a wave washes
over the body of my child.
I have let her drown

or fall. She has fallen
from a high balcony
and I have let it happen.
Negligence. I feel
as if I’m plummeting…

Oh let this be a dream.
I’ll be better next time.
I’ll watch, I’ll watch, I’ll watch.

(From The Long Turn Toward Light, by Barbara Tanner Angell. I received the poem via the daily Writer’s Almanac, from American Public Media.)

One Response

  1. Yaya
    Yaya at | | Reply

    This will continue through out Ian’s lifetime. The most terrifying moment with you was when you hid from me in a grocery store. True, it was probably only for a couple of minutes but I was in a state of panic. When I finally found you, I didn’t know if I should yell at you or hug you! Yes, the hugging sensation won!!

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