Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I blame the newspapers. I read too many. It’s why I’m catastrophizing right now, while standing on this wide expanse of beach under this huge and cloudless sky when I should be enjoying the view and giving myself up to the moment. Catastrophizing is what a friend of mine calls it and it’s a great word.

I like to think I’m a rational worrier, rather than an irrational one. The children really could drown while surfboarding, on this weekend away to Wales. It’s possible. Okay, it’s not likely but it’s possible. Especially since Husband is not in the water with them, to keep an eye out (he doesn’t like surfing). It’s riskier than, say, playing cricket on the sand… although they could get hit on the head by a bat, I guess, but at least then I would see that happening and be able to do something.

It’s like when I was in Africa (I like to throw that in). I wasn’t scared of the creepy crawly things in the bedrooms like some in our party were. I reckoned they could do us no real harm. It’s not nice to find a beetle the size of nailbrush in your shower tray, but it’s not going to kill you. 

That alligator, on the other hand, the one at the lake near the border with Burkina Faso, that they told us was perfectly harmless and had just eaten anyway so we could all have our pictures taken (for money), while straddling his back… No thank you very much. I declined that invitation. And yet the very same people, who were scared of the creepy crawlies, happily did that. As I say, my fears are rational.

You see, standing here on this beach at the base of the cliff with my friends, I can’t even make out who’s who out there in the foaming surf, let alone if they’re okay and there have been so many drowning stories recently… 

Those poor men in Scotland with their children; that father in Spain who couldn’t swim and who went into the sea after his son; the mother in Cornwall who did the same, that young couple out walking their dog last week near the swollen river…  

And maybe I’m supposed to worry, I shouldn't fight it, it's hard-wired, mums have evolved to do this for a reason, to protect their young - and I’ve all got all our near misses to draw on.

What about that time in Portugal when Eldest was four and we’d just arrived at the villa and if I hadn’t looked out of the window as we were unpacking, I never would have seen him walk into the pool, fully clothed, and go under? He couldn’t swim without armbands. Husband waded in to get him.

Or in the south of France when the older two were paddling and we were sitting on the beach with the baby and Middle One stepped back, to where the shore suddenly shelved away, and disappeared. I ran into the sea that time, fully clothed, not stopping to tell husband what was going on because there wasn't time, retrieving the gasping child under my arm, wading back to shore, soaked and shaking, while a French woman out walking her dog, called out, “Oh-La-La! Madam!” like some sort of cliché.

And then there was this summer in Crete; the children’s ill-advised evening swim with friends, those dark, wild waves in that rolling, empty sea (which really should have been a clue), the red flag we only noticed later, our youngest child drifting toward the rocks, a local man shouting about ‘the rip’…

After, as we towelled them dry on the beach, an image of Youngest, white and prone, lying lifeless on the sand, just would not leave my mind. For days it flashed before me and every night at bedtime as I tucked him in, I pressed his tiny body ever so slightly closer than usual. What if… what if… what if…

This, then, is what the worry is for: to remind us that they are so precious, that life is fragile, that we love them so much...

As if we need that sort of reminding.

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