Crazy times. This is the state of what we’re living in now. CRAZY TIMES. (Is this why I’ve found myself wanting to cry — or, really crying — over what I’ve seen and read in the news lately? For the sake of being specific, I’m writing this just days after we’ve seen a toddler boy fall into a gorilla cave at the Cincinnati Zoo, a lone gunman hold UCLA on lockdown, a horrific hate-shooting at an Orlando nightclub and another toddler boy tragically snatched by an alligator from a peaceful lagoon at a Disney resort. You see my confusion and despair?)
People are crazy. Places are crazy. Priorities are crazy. Parenting is now becoming crazy thanks to all the crazy that merely exists… because none of us know how to navigate all this crazy around us. So we just plow through the fear (like I did last year) and hope for the best.
The other day, I took my daughters to the beach. It was our first trip of the season and I was elated to be there on such a perfect day of blue water and clear sky. The girls are 5 and 4 now and self-sufficient, so it made our trip remarkably easier than the rigamarole I remember doing just a few years ago with diapers and umbrellas and ice packs and overdue nap-times contributing to crankiness… man what a difference.
This trip was peaceful. This trip was magical. This trip was fun. This trip also made me a bit sad because I noticed how arguably-paranoid I was acting as a parent. (F-E-A-R.) I was acting similar to how I remember my own mom behaving whenever we’d go to the beach.
“Don’t go in the water past here,” she’d tell us kids as she put her hand halfway between our knees and ankles. “The ocean is strong and can whisk you away in a second,” she’d say. “Be careful — sometimes jellyfish come to the beach and I don’t want you to get stung,” would be told to us on occasion. “Be careful — there are a lot of rocks on this shore and I don’t want you to gash your foot,” we’d sometimes hear.
Some would classify my mom as a scaredy-cat. (We did back then… sometimes still do.) Some might call her a helicopter parent in this day and age — although she’d send us outside to play around the neighborhood and we’d walk to and from our bus stop and local grocery store as elementary aged kids, free of any adult supervision. But, the ocean was one of those ‘be extra careful’ places. As we grew up, the ‘be extra careful’ places expanded to amusement parks and shady-looking creaky rides (“those rides don’t look safe at all”), parking garages (“always get your keys ready before you exit the building and go to your car”) and cars themselves (“always lock your door the second you get in”). Paranoid or practical? You make the call.
And there on the beach with my girls, I found myself thinking so many things… and telling them so many things as I stood right next to them in the water watching their every move and ready to react should a situation call for it. I put my hand on the spot between their knees and ankles, “We can’t go into the ocean more than up to here… and the rule is that you two must hold hands.”
(Because all I could think of were alligators… or, in this case, a strong and unexpected rip current coming and scooping up my unattached youngest one in a hot second. The waves were beyond powerful that day.)
After sitting down for a bit and digging our toes in the sand, I then noticed a small group of young men walking right in front of us with large backpacks and cameras, beards and thick accents. Between filling up our plastic beach toys with sand and water, I tried to listen to them. What kinds of accents are those? What’s in their backpacks? I shook at the way the thoughts were tiptoeing across my mind. They then started taking pictures of each other. Is this distracting and suspicious activity before they turn around, bust open their backpacks full of assault rifles and open fire on us all? My conscious slapped myself. STOP, Jill.
But I couldn’t stop immediately. I wasn’t necessarily scared, but I continued to listen, be aware and secretly plan how I’d react should the unthinkable happen… because these are the times we live in. CRAZY TIMES.
I hated myself for thinking those thoughts that day. Alligators and automatic weapons. I hated myself for feeling the fear. I hated myself for not letting my girls go into the ocean farther than the midpoint between their ankles and knees.
And then, I had a moment of clarity: Crazy times call for increased caution. That’s it. So own it.
Before you call your doc to prescribe me some anxiety meds (I don’t need any, thanks very much) keep in mind that I send my girls outside to play independently, I don’t really monitor how they do things on a day-to-day basis, I had no problem dropping my TK-er off in the morning at the carpool line (while other TK parents insisted on waiting at the classroom door until the teacher got there) and I fully expect my kids to be able to walk around the neighborhood (like I did) by themselves by the time they reach the 2nd grade or so. But I will be cautious in public, dammit.
Parenting with caution while thinking ahead is something that less and less of us seem to be doing these days. We’re letting our guard down, we’re getting too comfortable, we’re scared of being seen as hovering. Yes, accidents happen… but I’m a firm believer that some accidents are preventable if you keep your eyes open extra wide.
It’s not unwarranted paranoia, it’s parenting for the age we live in. As far as I’m concerned, we’re at war these days — war with humankind, war with priorities, war with freak accidents that you’d never dream of happening at a supposedly-safe Disney resort.
Maybe we can all stand to be a bit more cautious… protective… proactive when it comes to possible scenarios that threaten the safety of our kids. As a kid we made fun of and complained about our mom’s scaredy-cat rationales where oceans and amusement parks were concerned, but she kept us safe and raised my sister and I to anticipate and weigh calculated risks. Am I scared of things today, as an adult? Maybe, but not to the point one might assume. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean (in Florida) and I ride rollercoasters (upside down ones, even). However, I do make it a habit to get my keys out of my purse before venturing into a parking garage or lot — that’s just a life skill that we should all have.
It’s my job to prepare my daughters in this crazy time we live in, so I will continue to think ahead. Fight crazy with crazy? Maybe that’s the key. We are at war, so we’d better parent like we’re at war in the name of being aware that, yes, things CAN happen to us too.
And for now, I’m ok with that.