22 August 2012

On the Exasperation of Being Careful

Wait a minute.
Hold up.

Oh, for the love of Pete...How many times will I repeat those words and phrases? I'm getting on my own nerves. To paraphrase Dieter, my habit of needless warnings becomes tiresome. I'm sure my daughter feels the same way. She rarely replies to me when I do it. I'm not sure if she is too conscious of me being Daddy or if she is being polite.

Knowing her, it may be a mix of both...or she could be mentally rolling her eyes and saying "Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, whatever, Daddy". That wouldn't surprise me in the least. My progeny is whip-smart and has a sharp wit for one so young.

I suspect she may be smarter than me. This means trouble, down the road. Ah, I digress.

No, the problem for me at the moment is that whenever Wee Lass is with me, I suddenly turn into a nag. A nag when it involves her doing something that incurs a modicum of risk. And by risk, I mean "a little kid moving through space-time". I constantly worry that she is going to run into something, fall off something or knock something down and break it. So I become Polly Parrot squawking its fool head off.

The problem is that for the most part there isn't really anything to worry about, and there isn't anything I could really do to prevent something that truly is an accident. I am sure my daughter is smart enough to avoid the obvious threats (don't stick your hand in a fire, watch out for cars, keep you head out of the toilet), yet I feel compelled to say "Be careful!" when she so much as does an impromptu dance in the living room.*

Why do I do this? Is it that I believe so strongly in the power of words that I find them talismanic against chaos and misfortune? If so, my energy may be wasted. After all, "No Trespassing" signs have never kept anyone off the railroad tracks. I don't know why I think that the utterance of a few syllables will magically protect her from embarrassment at best and physical harm at worst.

Maybe it is my 'daddy' instinct. Maybe it is my own fears directing my behavior. For most of my life I have been surprise-averse. The sudden and the unpredictable typically give me fits, and I don't react often enough with grace and aplomb. Being that way is not a character flaw, yet I'm troubled by it all the same.

It makes sense to avoid risk in some cases, yes. But not in all cases. Certainly not in cases where the risk is more a perception than a reality, and that is the case for most day-to-day life. Avoiding all perceived risks and trying to limit uncertainty creates a new problem, the limiting of experience. It teaches one to live in anxiety rather than in wonder. It limits experience, even if subtly. It is something I have not yet overcome as an adult. Today it hit me why it bothers me so. 

I may be quietly teaching my daughter to live in fear. Subtle, maybe, but explicit in its effects. I may be setting the wrong example, that life is constant vigilance against the unexpected. The side effect is that it can lead to missing out on joy. I have noticed my daughter is somewhat cautious when it comes to new experiences. She tends to be reserved until she figures things out in her own mind; spontaneous eruptions of 'kid-ness' are not unknown with her, but they aren't exactly the norm either.

I wonder how much of that is innate, and how much of it is me. I know from examining my own behavior that I tend to be cautious, too. As a rule I don't just dive in to new social situations or experiences. Over the course of my life I am sure that has held me back from some truly enjoyable situations and worthwhile relationships.

The thought that this may set an example for Wee Lass, well, that just makes me question myself as a father. Her father. I should be teaching her to be better than the bundle of nerves that I am. I will be teaching her better. There is still time for me to get it right, for the apple that fell to outshine the tree upon which it grew.

*I should point out a recent example in which I didn't revert to type, and a minor accident DID occur. There is a big cushy chair in my family room that spins around 360 degrees. She, naturally, wanted to sit in it and spin around. I obliged, giving the chair a few not overly strong pushes. She, of course, chooses that very moment to try and adjust her position. Centrifugal force and bad luck conspired to tip her over, falling off the chair and knocking over a lamp. Lucky for us, it ended with only embarrassment and a very small bruise. However, I was kicking myself mentally, saying "Why didn't I say 'Be Careful!'" Of course, it would have done no good...and I have yet to convince myself of that truth.

1 comment:

"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...