When I was a child I had a plan.
The plan was, if a nuclear war should break out, I would take cover underneath the bed. The bed, a cabin bed no less, with a fitted wardrobe underneath and a desk so tiny I couldn’t use it without banging my head on the bed above, was my pride and joy, and I had it all planned out. The only thing that would stand between me and the apocalypse was a few sheets of chipboard from the Littlewoods catalogue. All would be fine.
I have never been the most optimistic person. I spent my childhood looking for potential cover on the off chance an atomic bomb happened to fall right on top of my house. I would pore through the History textbooks at school to find stories of people who miraculously survived Hiroshima by jumping into rivers, and hope that I too would prove to have lightning-quick instincts of steel if and when the time came. When I visited a friend in California I demanded a run-through of the emergency procedures we would need to follow in the event of an earthquake, and don’t even get me started on the time I actually GOT UNDER THE TABLE in my flat in Japan when there was a bit of a tremor.
Now that I have a child, the fear has gone stratospheric. Ever since the Paris attacks I find myself wondering, on a daily basis, whether the walls of our house are thick enough to shield us from machine gun fire, and if-as seems likely-they are not, how do I get the pushchair to safety quickly enough?
Now I am not going to bemoan the dangerous state of the world today. The world has always been dangerous, and I would sooner live in a world where I may be at risk from the occasional terrorist attack than a world where I would not have survived infancy, and where one couldn’t even travel to the nearest town without running the risk of being attacked by wolves, or marauding bandits, or highwaymen, who I imagine were a bit scarier in the eighteenth century than Adam Ant in some face paint, although not as scary as the likes of smallpox. However, it is certainly true that having a child raises the stakes, whether you live in war-torn Syria or Broken Britain, the Middle Ages or the twenty-first century.
So how do you do it? How do you cope with the ever-present fear of the bogeyman, the terrible event come to part you from your child for eternity? Do you wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them out of your sight? Or do you let them run free, graze their knees and make their own mistakes, and hope that one of them isn’t diving head first down the stairs? The other day, in a baby cafe, I found myself frantically fishing around in a tiny mouth for what I had assumed was a stray battery or plastic toy which I feared was about to be swallowed, only to find nothing but a grotty bit of biscuit.
So I will feel sad for the latest terrorist attack, and remind myself that there are parents in far scarier places, not that that provides much comfort, and I will love and protect my child as best as I can, and hope that the bogeyman remains just that; a figment of my over-active imagination.