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.