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The line between freedom and fear

Submitted by on Sunday, 1 June 2008 No Comment

Originally published May 14, 2007, thehive.modbee.com

 The story that made me want to throw up this morning:

In Vernona Beach, N.Y., 6-year-old Kayleigh Cochis died after she fell off a chair while trying to reach scissors on top of a refrigerator. The blades stabbed her in the neck. Her father was home, but didn’t see her fall.

 Two things are certain about this stomach-turning tragedy.

  One, the father will second-guess himself until the day he dies.

  Two, a substantial portion of the rest of the world will blame him for the death.

  That’s usually the case these days. Somewhere along the line, we stopped believing in accidents. Everything has to be someone’s fault, and it’s usually the parents’, even if the kid’s not a kid anymore.

I could almost see people queuing up to blast him. “Why wasn’t he watching her? What kind of father is he?”

  Folks, I know it’s not that simple. I was almost there a few weeks ago.

  It was a gorgeous Monday, and the boys were playing in the backyard as I cooked dinner. I looked out at them every few minutes, but mostly let them be. I have bay windows in the kitchen and a sliding-glass patio door that give me a clear view of 90 percent of the yard. That day, it was that other 10 percent that mattered.

  In the time it took to put sauce and cheese on a pizza, Big Guy had led Little Guy out the side gate, through the front yard and to the sidewalk. They were getting ready to cross the street. Luckily, the car that turned the corner at the moment belonged to a dear friend of mine who lives about a block over. She grabbed Little Guy while Big Guy high-tailed it back to the house. He knew he was in a world of trouble.

  I hadn’t checked the gate that day, because we never open it. Never, ever, ever. But someone, probably the exterminator, had this time. I’m not blaming him. I should have checked – you can bet I do now. But why would I think to check when the gate had never been left open in the seven years I’ve lived in this house?

  And the thing is, we hadn’t had a problem with Big Guy leaving the yard – any yard – for almost three years. It’d been drilled in his head from the time he could toddle. The grass is your boundary, boy. Do not go one pinky toe beyond it.

  That day, he forgot that lesson. Or he decided to see what would happen if he ignored it.

  Likewise, I’m sure Kayleigh had been told many times not to climb on chairs. I’m sure she’d heeded that advice for months on end. But the one time she didn’t …

  It’s a tricky thing, finding the balance between fearful hovering and excessive freedom. If I err, it’s toward the latter. The one thing I’ve always wanted for my kids was freedom from irrational fear. I suppose at times that translates to not enough caution.

  Even after Big Guy’s aborted jail break, I still give them as much room as they need to explore. I just make sure I check all gates beforehand. 

Copyright 2007 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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