Monday, March 15, 2010

Stupid Is Always Right Behind You

Had a bit of an incident last week. A friend who was visiting knocked on my study door to say she'd been stung by a jackjumper ant. (Fierce, nasty, stinging ants about an inch long in the old measure. They're aggressive, more painful than your typical wasp, and capable of multiple stings.) She said she wasn't feeling well, and was going to take herself down to the surgery.

I was deep in work mode. I acknowledged her with a half-wave, and went back to editing.

Sixty seconds later, I sat bolt upright, charged out of the study, and stuck my head out the back door. She was about to climb into her car.

"Do you want a driver?" I shouted.

"No," she said. "I'll be all right." And wheezed. Loudly enough I could hear her at twenty metres.

Y'see, I know this person has allergies. And fierce asthma. And I very nearly let her climb into her own car and drive after a jackjumper sting, purely because I was thinking about something else.

And that, my friends -- that was Stupid.

Luckily I don't usually stay stupid for too long. I overruled her wheezy protests, put her in my car, and drove her down to the surgery. Ten minutes after that, she was in the back of an ambulance with an oxy mask on.

This kind of shit scares me. My wife takes it in her stride, probably because of her job. But... it's such a little fucking margin. I have three kids. Adventurous, inquisitive kids. Yes, they're smart enough not to play on the road, and they know how to react to snakes. But still: they depend on me to be grown-up, and not stupid.

And Stupid takes only a minute of distraction to close in for the kill.

My jackjumper-stung friend is going to be okay, though it's a good thing she didn't try to make the drive on her own. So, you know: this time Stupid didn't manage to score. The thing is, Stupid only has to win big once, and that's your whole fucking life trashed, right there. Just look the wrong way once. Just once, decide you're too tired to get out of your chair to check on that weird noise out by the trampoline. Pick up the ringing telephone instead of looking in on the silent kid just that one wrong time...

I can't begin to tell you how much this shit frightens me. I'm sure it scares every parent. And I expect mostly, we do the same thing: we patch together as much not-stupid as we can, and we try not to think about the other times. Because you can't be there all the time, for everything. You really can't check out every step of the way. They have to climb trees, and chase lizards, and hammer nails and play hide and seek. And you have to let them. All you can do is try to keep your tendency to be stupid at bay: watch, listen, and try to react when it's needed.

So far it's working out. So far.


  1. So right! It's just so scarliy easy to be off guard for JUST ONE SECOND. It's also somtimes hard to know where that line is between protective and fucken SMOTHERING.

    I think you do okay!

  2. Yes I too fear for the kid's safety - gotta let them be kids, explore, be boisterous, but you don't want them breaking limbs and the like. Funnily, I reacted very calmly when my Litle Bloke had to get his head stitched after a samll incident. I guess I've learned to cope with emergency stuff though...12 years in the cops will do that.

    I've heard that those jackjumper ants are very dangerous where allergies are concerned. Did this person know they were that allergic to them, i.e. to the point of anaphylaxis? They would do well to get themselves an epipen if that is the case. Or perhaps You could consider getting one for the home first aid kit? Doubtless your good lady wife is very well placed to make that sort of informed choice.

  3. Aye, Cap'n you couldn't be more right if you had an electric rightin stick.
    it amazes me the consequences of a mere moment of less than 100% focus, yet at other times we can blithely blunder through a hundred and fortyleven "death missed by a whisker" moments and only recognise them with that cold sick feeling in retrospect.

    Most recent for me was a split pin on a prop that could have come away at any tick of the clock. If Murphy's Law had struck on the inward crossing on the bar we'd have lost the prop then certainly the boat and possibly been drownderised. My work partner had thought that I'd checked and I thought he had. From now on we both check.

  4. I think you are being a little hard on yourself. Yes it was a lapse in concentration and it could have had dire consequences in this case, but it was not stupid.

    We have witnessed stupid in the world around us. Stupid so life threatening that it beggars belief the universe don't step in an say "no sorry sentience is for those who will use it" and promptly wipes them out with a Darwinesque redress of the gene pool.

    With offspring you can imagine no end of risks to the point where you let the_fear grip your heart until you can't breath and you end up with cotton wrapped children who grow into timorous adults. The world needs no more timorous adults. The world needs adults like Dr Savage man of Bronze.

    Of course the_fear would be easier to manage if we didn't live on a continent full to the brim with venomous, aggressive and diminutive beasties.

  5. Bondi: she didn't know she was allergic. She hadn't been stung before. But she was a primo candidate, with other allergies and the asthma and all.

    Barnes: nope. I'm not being hard on myself. Athletes and sportsmen are entitled to expect higher standards of physical performance from themselves, and are rightly disappointed when they laps from their own standards. I'm not an athlete or a sportsman, but I am smart, and it's one of the things that defines my identity. Another such thing is my role as 'Dad'. It's my job, and part of my identity, to have alarm bells go off in my head a little earlier than for most people.

    But I appreciate the sentiment, sir.

    And Mayhem: fear of smothering is another big one. I like to think I'm not guilty in that department -- judging by the dirt, torn clothes, scrapes, scratches, bumps, bruises and triumphant adventures I hear about.

  6. I would certainly never consider u stupid in any capacity. I think "distracted" would have been the more applicable depiction. Either way, u still were ON it once you got focused in on the situation!

  7. Sometimes I look back on my childhood and am amazed at the STUPID things I did. There are a few where they may never have even found the body.

    And that scares the hell out of me as a parent.

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  9. You said it. I'll be playing happily with my boy, throwing him in the air (which he loves so very much) and only see the fan blades, edge of the deck or door frame milliseconds before I let him go. Thankfully my reflexes have been fast enough to avoid tragedy so far but I always wind up thinking to myself "Stupid, stupid, STUPID! Why didn't you look FIRST?" He's taking his first steps and I am terrified of what other stupid things I'm going to let him do without thinking now that he's getting very mobile...

    How did any of us ever get to be this old?

    (First post deleted due to strange double-post.)

  10. I have to agree with the distracted rather than stupid. Stupid would have been NOT running for the driver's seat after the situation sank in. We all do our best, as people and as parents, and perfect non-stupidity/non-distractedness/non-sleep-deprivation just ain't achievable. And thinking otherwise is a sure-fire way to makes things worse, I think. Of course, I also let my just-turned-three-year-old play with knives. Very closely supervised, but I feel sure my grandmother is turning over in her grave.

  11. Aaackk! This post saved me from Stupid last night! Thank you Mr Flinthart.

    I noticed after I got home from work yesterday afternoon that The Brat had left the shower dripping, and shower door open, and consequently there was water all over the bathroom floor. Telling myself I would have to get that cleaned up, I promptly forgot about it.

    It wasn't until after I had gone to bed that I remembered the water all over the bathroom tiles. Now it's not as though The Brat is a small child or anything, but he arrives home very late, the bathroom light doesn't work, and he would have been literally in the dark had he stepped into the bathroom. As far as I know 18 year old heads will still come off worst in a collision with ceramic floor tiles.

    2 seconds after remembering, and fleetingly thinking it would probably be okay, I was out of bed, mopping the bathroom floor, thinking STUPID!

  12. If anyone wants to read some examples of wheat lapses in attention cause I would point you to a fine example of science blogging

  13. Flinthart-

    I would join Barnesm in saying don't beat yourself up because you did do a double take. Many people who would not think twice. But if you thought you were stupid, well I shall leave you to it. I would only suggest that we do walk around feeling protected by a golden shield, so often our first thought is to minimise such things as ant bites-- yet we can die just like that ~snap~ (clicks fingers for effect).

    (I know Jumping Ants are particularly bad, but still all bites can make atopic people react with anaphylaxis as well you know)

    I like , well like isn;tthe right word, I admire the Victoarin practise of keeping a coffin handy. Umm, could never live with it myself but that tells on how culturally averse we are to these facts.

    I saw on your list of newsy things that a friend is now using an epi pen and I guess it might be this person.
    Finding allergists is difficult. We only have two in the ACT.

    Anyway, the fact is you thought again and saved your friend's life perhaps. Abigail