it's my middle name

At the park today Chicken picked up a stick (like ya do) and started whacking a tree with it (like ya do) until a golden flurry of almond-sized and shaped leaves cascaded from the branches onto his head (like they do.)

Be careful, baby!

Why?

Because if you knock leaves out of the tree, then one of the leaves could land in your eye and that would really hurt!

Oh. Okay.

I heard the words come out of my mouth. I furrowed my brow. Did I just warn my son about the horrors of... falling leaves?

My job, first and foremost, as a parent, is to keep my kids alive, sometimes with their help, and sometimes against their most valiant efforts to perish. That is the one and only part of the parenting job description that pretty much everyone can agree on: 

1. Maintain pulse.

So most of the time, when I open my mouth with the all-too-familiar opener of "be careful, baby!" I know I'm doing it to teach him about a legitimate danger:

Be careful, baby!

Why?

Because if you try to pet the dog and he isn't friendly then he could bite you, 
and that would really hurt!

Because if you run with a fork, you could trip and stab yourself in the throat, 
and that would really hurt!

Because if you suck blueberries into your mouth like an anteater,
you could suck one all the way into your throat and choke on it,
 and that would really hurt!

Because if you lie down in the middle of the parking lot, a car could hit you,
and that would really hurt!

Oh. Okay.

I feel pretty safe calling those solid parenting choices - teaching a young child not to touch strange dogs, run with sharp objects, choke to death, or lose a leg under one of the big rig's 18 wheels? Solid. 

But sometimes... well... 

Be careful, baby!

Why?

Because if you run  in your new shoes then you could trip
even though this is soft grass
there could be something sharp hiding in the grass
that would poke you
and maybe infect you with a chronic incurable bloodborne disease
a plague
the likes of which has not been seen on this earth
since the day the pharaoh did not
let my people go

and that would really hurt
so let's just walk ok
even though
yes
I know this is a park
let's play walking today
ready for walking tag?
OK, you're it
BUT WE'RE WALKING
Oooooh!
This is fun, right?
WALKING FEET
I'm gonna get you
EVEN THOUGH WE ARE WALKING


I never said I was a perfect parent. I never thought it either. But it's one thing to say "I'm not perfect," and another to look into the perfect, still wild and fiery and unwary eyes of your child and know that you're about to fuck him up. Just a little. 

OK, Skipper. I'm doing this wrong and I know it, but I'm still going to do it. I'm packing your baggage, kid. Right here. Right now. In twenty years, you're going to be in group therapy telling the story of the falling leaves. I know it. Still doing it.

I want my kids to be afraid of train tracks, cliffs, guns, the single man hanging out at the playground with a puppy.

I don't want them to be afraid of leaves. I don't want them to grow up fearful of small hurts. But worse, so much worse, would be to bequeath my fear of the imaginary threats that lie, invisible, in the soft green grass. Or worse, the specter of danger that grows larger and larger in perfect pace with the breathtaking love and inutterable terror that haunt those of us who must, #1, keep our children alive.

Soooooooo...

Anyone have any tips on that? On how to teach caution and healthy fear without adding a heaping scoop of world-shrinking phobia?

Anyone?

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