Saturday, 21 April 2012

being careful

One of my most oft-uttered phrases as a mother is 'Be careful.'

I say it when they're climbing a fence, or climbing a tree. When they are mucking about on the floor with each other. When they get out of the car. When they run ahead of me up the path. When they climb up on a chair to fill a glass from the tap, and when they carry that full glass across the kitchen to the table.

Why do I say it? What does it mean?

I've noticed that mothers say it a lot more than fathers. Why? Do mothers worry more? Are they more protective, more concerned?

I have asked myself these questions many, many times over the years.

In recent times, I have come to think it is a useless, pointless thing to say. I wonder if they even hear me. I certainly don't think the words inspire a change in their behaviour; they do not hear me and thusly adjust their bodies' forward motion in avoidance of danger.

In fact, I have come to see the words as suggestive. As undermining. Harmful.

I used to believe that I say 'Be careful' to verbalise my own love and concern. I've realised that I actually weild these words as a talisman against danger, disappointment and loss. It's a mantra I sing to ward off any evil that may befall these small ones I love. It's a get-out-of-jail-free card. If my children do indeed get into trouble, I am absolved of guilt because I TOLD THEM TO BE CAREFUL! The trouble won't be a reflection on my failing as a parent, but rather on their failing to take heed.

Telling my children to be careful suggests their world is dangerous and that they are ill-equipped to deal with it. It suggests I don't believe in them. It sets them up to fail.

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And yet.

I know they are important words.

And that they can co-exist with fearlessness.

I am not a fearful person. I don't class myself as a worrier. And yet I am careful. I anticipate danger and try to avoid it. I calculate risk, researching and analysing before committing.

I was careful.

I breastfed four children - mostly for their own benefit, but also in the knowledge I was protecting myself, too. I ate healthily. I didn't allow myself to grow fat and sedentary. I avoided chemicals when possible. I lived without a microwave, without fake tan, without breast implants, without red meat, without margarine, without bitterness over past disappointments and without the Pill.

And yet.

I find myself in danger.

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The last three months have taught me the most important meaning and the value of the words 'Be careful.' It is not that the words are wrong. It is the circumstances under which we deliver them that are wrong. It is not in avoidance of danger that we should be being careful. It is with regards to each other.

Some will argue semantics here. Some will say my chemo-drug-addled brain is confusing usage and meandering beyond the realms of cogency.

If we take 'careful' as meaning 'full of care', then to be careful is to be full of care. Yes?

And that is what we should be.

In the last three months, I have been swaddled in the most awe-inspiring blanket of care imaginable. I have been loved and looked after in a way I have never before experienced. Rarely does a day pass without a card in the post, a gift, a cooked meal, an email, a shoulder rub, a phone call, an invitation...some evidence that someone is thinking of me and trying to ease some of the burden on my shoulders and in my heart. Women I have never met in person have sent gifts for my children. The mother of my first boyfriend - a woman I haven't seen or spoken to in fifteen years - sent a card last week. Men - one I've known half my life and one I've known for a year - have come to my home to help complete DIY projects and mend my broken car. A lady in the village who heard about my illness - a woman who fought this disease eight years ago herself - popped in to offer to drive me to a local complimentary therapies centre. Mothers from school whom I have never spoken to have sent beautiful home-cooked meals. Mothers from school with whom I have laughed and cried have welcomed my girls to their homes in the afternoons to save me doing the hour and a half school run. Our parents have sent gifts and money to help with the escalating costs of travel to hospital. I've opened the most thoughtful parcels containing pyjamas, eyebrow pencil, hand-tempered chocolate, hand-mixed healing oils and handmade healing jewelery.  People have emerged from my past to tell me they love me, that they are thinking of me, that they are praying for me. People who don't even really know me have done the same.

I am certain that it is this care that is carrying me through the storm right now. I will never be able to make people understand how very much every gesture means.

But I am left wondering: why does it take the spectre of death to engender this level of care for one another? We all need to be cared for, all of the time. Every person I know deserves this same outpouring of love.

How different the world would feel if everyone felt as cared for as I do now.

I am sure I will continue to utter the dreaded phrase 'Be careful' when my children dance in front of danger.

But I promise I will also whisper it when they gaze on other people's sad and lonely faces.

Be careful.

Go out into this world, and be full of care for every person you meet.