I had an e-mail from my friend Reese last week. While she was carrying her baby to the car, she fell and sprained her ankle badly. She screamed in pain for her mother to come take the baby and then promptly fainted when the baby was safe in her mother’s arms. It reminded me of an incident when my daughter was 4 months old. It was dinnertime, we had just moved into our house with the beautiful stone floors and I was walking her to soothe her. I stepped on the wooden top to my son’s fire engine and my feet flew out from under me. I pitched violently forward and landed hard on my elbows and knees with my baby’s head an inch above the floor. Not one part of my daughter made contact with the unforgiving stone floor and I did not fall onto her, I instinctually held her safe in that split-second accident. My knees and elbows were a mass of painful bruises for several weeks and it took far longer for me to stop shaking over the potential injury to my baby, but I also wondered at the protective instinct that kicks in when you don’t have time to think.
A father drowned this week after instructing his son to swim to safety when they got into trouble. Last year in New Zealand both parents drowned trying to rescue their three children from a rip tide (the children survived). I see dozens of similar stories where parents die trying to rescue their children who have gotten into trouble in the water.
We all know that there is nothing we wouldn’t do to protect our children. Those of us who have felt first-hand that protective instinct kick in know that even if we had time to stop and think about it we would unhesitatingly give our lives for our children. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t risk our lives every day throwing ourselves in front of cars because our children routinely wander in front of them - we teach them how to cross the street carefully and to look for cars. It can be the same with water, start teaching your child from infancy respect for the water and how to navigate water safely. Being a parent is rewarding, challenging, frustrating, funny, and the source of a maelstrom of strong emotions, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening.