Once of the elements of parenthood that I’m still trying to master is how to look as if I’m completely relaxed and in control when in fact the opposite is true.
I wish I could be cool and zen but I can’t because I live in morbid fear of my children hurting themselves. And I have good reason to worry because they have form (broken legs; scraped faces etc).
Take last month, for example. A gorgeous spring day at a christening party in Devon. The boys are capering around on the lawn… high on sunshine, juice and space. It’s idyllic.
But there’s a river at the end of the lawn and this is at the back of my mind at all times, ensuring I feel stressed when I can’t see all my children at once.
The baby is crawling everywhere at break-neck speed, Hector is charging around with the pack of other children, and Alfie decides to play with trains indoors.
I dart between the three of them like a crazy person.
Then I take the baby into the house for a nap in the travel cot in an upstairs bedroom – and Alfie follows. The stairs are steep and a bit slippery, so I close the stair gate behind me. Alfie is three so he’s pretty good on stairs but I don’t want to take any risks.
We walk along the corridor to our allocated bedroom and I’m just putting the baby down when I hear a thudding sound. I call Alfie’s name and hear nothing.
And then the screaming starts. He’s managed to fall backwards down another staircase – I don’t think he noticed the gap in the landing – and is lying in a shocked heap at the bottom.
He’s shaking, I’m shaking, the baby is crying, everyone is staring at us. I feel embarrassed to be making such a scene.
Alfie stops crying eventually and starts to look sleepy, which of course worries me even more. He won’t be left watching TV with the other children while we have lunch, so he sits drowsily on my husband’s knee.
I’m feeling out of body by this stage, sitting at the table, trying to engage in conversation while worrying about Alfie’s head and the baby upstairs (what if he chokes and we don’t hear?).
Thank goodness my husband is calm in these situations. He’s able to enjoy lunch, to make conversation, to tell me to stop panicking and relax and although I obviously hiss at him to shut the fuck up when he says this, I do eventually stop hyperventilating.
What did I learn from this situation? Only that there will be many more like it.
That if you have children, not just three but any number, you will lose control, things will go wrong, and you won’t be cool about it.
This is part of being a parent. It will never change. Even when my children are grown-ups I’ll still be fretting about their safety.
After lunch, I get the baby up. He is actually quite happy chatting to himself in his bed but I’m happier watching him crawl around on the lawn. And I give in to Alfie’s pleas to be carried indefinitely and pick him up.
With him in my arms, the baby at my feet and Hector careering around in the distance with the other kids, my shoulders drop.
If this is what it takes to feel in control, then so be it.