Uppermost House: Worry is wasted on the young

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

My granddaughter Sophie is 20 months old, which means she is in charge of the house.

It’s that most dangerous time when she is dramatically mobile, but still quite uncommunicative. Simultaneously insatiably curious, yet uncooperative. She understands right and wrong, safe and dangerous, prudent and careless, in the same way a cat might understand the differences between alternating current and the U.S. postal system.

My son and his wife are very sensible and cautious people and have equipped their home with many child-safety gadgets. They have electrical outlet safety plugs, a gate for the stairs, a video camera with night-vision in the nursery, a gizmo that keeps the toilet lid shut (and which, awkwardly, seems to take three hands to operate), and many other safeguards.

And, they always know where Sophie is. She can’t skedaddle off into a quiet corner for more than a minute without some kind of alarm (external or internal) going off and someone running away on a sleuthing expedition.

And when my wife and I visit, we pick up on their attentiveness vibes and become hyper-alert ourselves. The last time we were there I jumped up several times and said, “Oh my gosh, where’s is Sophie?” only to be giggled at by her dad or mom. “She’s fine,” one of them would say, and then they would hastily scoot off to make sure.

This kind of behavior is typical of new parents, especially with the first child. It’s not over-protection so much as just getting used to having a new, small, unpredictable, irrational person scurrying about who doesn’t quite yet understand the way the world works. Once you can really talk to them, things get easier, but in the meantime you feel a little frantic, trying to do all the around-the-house things while making sure the new micro-human doesn’t crawl into the dryer. It’s a delicate time- and task-management balancing act, like trying to keep penguins in your bathtub while at the same time making a soufflé and learning to speak Flemish.

By the time the second child arrives, you’re an old hand and have mellowed.

“Haven’t seen little Jerome since before lunch. Know where he’s run off to?”

“Hmm, what? Oh, not sure. Stick your head out the back door and see if you can hear the table saw going in the barn.”

And eventually your kids grow up and start running all over the world and without Facebook or smart phones you’re sometimes not sure which continent they’re on.

My son works overseas, for example, and commutes via jet and helicopter. I’m never quite certain about his schedule and there are times when I’m circling my desk at the office drinking coffee while he’s skimming 4,000 feet above the Atlantic going a 100 mph and I don’t even know it. Odd, since I used to worry about him lying face-down too long in his crib just a little while ago.

And I used to love holding my daughter’s hand while she crossed the street, and yet two weeks ago off she flew from Buffalo to Jacksonville, Fla. all by herself to give a research presentation at a national convention of sports medicine people. And it never even occurred to me to call her hotel and see if they had those little plastic doohickeys stuffed in the electrical outlets in the rooms.

She managed the rides to and from the airport, the luggage, the flights, the taxi rides, the hotel, the conference, the food, and everything else with little more help from me than a few text messages and a quick bank transfer. During her first taxi ride of the trip, she texted me this message: “This feels like a really expensive kidnapping experience where you pay your own ransom.”

Flying home a few days later, a winter storm named Neptune was spinning east and we traded a few text messages as she made her final descent.

“There’s a winter weather warning. 2 – 4 inches. I can see snow hitting the wings,” she texted me at 10:47 p.m.

I was under the covers already, and texted back, “Weez goin to bed. Assume all is well. Text only if they’s any ishyouz. Talk tmro. Proud of U!” And then I turned the light off and promptly fell asleep.

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