Sunday, 5 June 2016

That Could Be Dangerous

My dear old mum has always been a cautious lady.  She’s someone who sees danger everywhere.
          When my mother was a child she was full of gung-ho, hanging off trees, skating on frozen-over ponds, taking on her little brothers’ bullies and giving any thug a pasting in the school playground. Most of us can recognise something of ourselves in that last sentence, when we too were once small.  The warrior child.  Fearless.  Immortal.  But somewhere along the way, realisation dawns that we are mortal beings. We have one body and need to look after it. Carefully. Certainly my own mother changed from warrior to worrier.
          As a young adult with children of her own, you didn’t find her doing any of the above.  Her reasoning: “What if I broke a leg?”  And as for skating on that frozen-over pond…madness!  “What if the ice broke?  I could get trapped under the ice, freeze to death, or drown. And who would look after my offspring?”
          Worry, unchecked, can turn into fear.  Sometimes irrational fear.  This can unwittingly transfer to children.  Is it wise to let our precious child hang off a tree, skate on a frozen pond, or have confrontation with the school bully?  What if our precious child was injured?
          At the age of ten I asked my parents if I could learn to horse ride. My mother nearly had a nervous breakdown.  She much preferred the gentler idea of her daughter attending ballet classes.  Instead it was my father who encouraged me with horse riding.  I grew up juggling bloc ballet shoes and jodhpurs.  While my mother dreamed of me being the next Margot Fonteyn, I fantasised about being the next Caroline Bradley.  I can still remember dancing on stage and my mother being all smiles.  I can also remember her every scream as my horse flew over huge fences in a serious affiliated jumping competition.  Talk about off putting.  And no, I didn’t qualify!
          Now that I’m a mother myself, it’s amazing to see how much fear, or encouragement, shapes us.  My daughter wanted to learn horse riding.  I immediately said no.  Why?  “It’s far too dangerous.”  I can still remember clapping a hand over my mouth after saying that.  I’d turned into my mother!  I haven’t ridden a horse since pregnant with my daughter, mainly because I didn’t want my kids demanding a turn in the saddle.  What if they fell? What if they broke something? Look what happened to Superman! Instead, illogically, I turned my attention to skiing.
          ‘That’s a dangerous hobby,’ my mother pointed out.
          I ignored her.  And then my children wanted to learn how to ski.  Once again I parroted my mother.
          ‘You’re just like grandma,’ they cried.
          ‘No I’m not!’ I retorted, deeply offended.
          ‘So let’s go skiing!’
          And we did.  I was a gibbering idiot throughout the entire week.  More so with my daughter because she’s absolutely brilliant and would like to spend all day tackling challenging blacks.  Off-piste.
          Meanwhile my mother, who is now eighty-three, is so anxious about “danger” she hardly leaves the house.  My father would dearly love to go on holiday, but my mother makes up every excuse to avoid going anywhere.
          ‘The Med is beautiful,’ my father sighed.
          ‘Not any more,’ my mother’s eyes narrowed. ‘The sea is full of bodies from drowned refugees.’
          ‘We’ll stay in a hotel with a pool. You don’t have to go in the sea.’
          ‘I don’t like flying. Planes crash.’
          ‘What about a cruise?’ my father suggested.
          ‘The sea is choppy. I get sea sick.’
          ‘No worries,’ my father replied.  ‘We could do a river cruise instead.’
          ‘The ship could sink.’
          ‘Okay. Then what about having a long weekend somewhere sunny? We could drive to France.’
          ‘No way.’ My mother looked horrified. ‘You drive like a lunatic.’
          My father dares to drive at forty miles-per-hour. Sometimes forty-one.
          My children, who had been rolling their eyes at each other whilst listening to their grandmother, piped up.
          ‘Grandma, seriously you need to relax and get out more.’
          ‘I can’t,’ my mother huffed. ‘I’m disabled. I can’t walk far.’
          ‘Then get a mobility scooter. You’ll be able to go anywhere and everywhere!’
          ‘A mobility scooter!’ my mother’s eyes widened in horror.  ‘Do you have any idea how dangerous they are?’
          My son and daughter looked at each other in surprise. Were they missing something here? Eleanor looked back at her grandmother.
          ‘Grandma, I’m talking about a mobility scooter. Not a motorbike.’
          ‘Yes, I know. And do you know how fast those things go?’
          ‘I believe the speed has been capped now,’ said Robbie with a straight face.  ‘Eight miles-per-hour.’
          ‘Exactly.’ My mother crowed triumphantly. ‘I’ve seen people on them in the supermarket, whizzing around like lunatics and causing chaos.  CHAOS!’ she shrieked.
          ‘Really?’ Eleanor’s eyes widened in disbelief.
          Robbie put his hands to his mouth, impersonating speaking through a tannoy.  ‘Staff announcement. Assistance please. There’s been a pile up in aisle three.’
          ‘You may poke fun,’ my mother waggled a finger, ‘but there’s danger around every corner.’
          Even in supermarkets, so it would seem.  Never again will I lurk too long by the baked beans.
          My children insist that I’m going to be as bad as my mother by the time I’m eighty-three.  I sincerely hope not. Sometimes we have to face our fears in order to overcome them.  So excuse me while I sign the entire family up for a pony trekking holiday in Wales followed by a taster session at Brands Hatch.  Which reminds me.
What lies at the bottom of the ocean and shakes a lot?  A nervous wreck…