I have bruises on my arms. They are green and purple. Quite pretty if you hold them up to the light. They remind me of a green and purple dress I had in the seventies. It was tie-dyed with a lace up bodice. Very cool in its day. I thought I was the folk singer, Melanie, when I wore it.
I am ambivalent about the bruises. I am grey hearted. I am affronted and affrighted. Yet I made an error of judgement so they are partly my fault.
My son has several friends who come back to our place to play on a regular basis. I have known the majority of the kids (and their parents) since Kindergarten. For the most part it’s been really beneficial. Our parenting styles and outlook on life are all very similar. We have almost all (parents and kids) grown up together.
My son has one friend whom he has known since Kindergarten who I would classify as an outsider. It is a classification imposed on him by his mother because he is the most amiable, pleasant, gorgeous kid I have ever met. At school he is very well liked and is always surrounded by friends. But that’s where it ends. You see, his mother is a little overprotective. He is nearly 12 but she won’t let him play at anyone’s place after school or go to sleepovers or parties.
Tanya is a worrier. She has said herself that if worrying were a sport she would be world champion. It’s not the state of the world she worries about however, or herself, or her husband, it’s her son. His health, his well-being, if he’s hot, if he’s cold, if he’s tired, if he’ll fall over during school sports and injure himself, if he’ll fall down the stairs on the way to the library, if the lunch she’s packed for him will somehow become contaminated before he eats it and he’ll have to be admitted to hospital with food poisoning. Tanya’s worrying is a full time job. She often appears exhausted.
Yet about six months ago she looked like she was beginning to loosen the apron strings. She actually agreed to let her son, Leo, come to my son’s 11th birthday party. I was elated and fearful at the same time. We went ten pin bowling. Every time Leo picked up the bowling ball I prayed he wouldn’t drop it on his foot.
The party went well. Leo began to come back to our place once or twice a month after school. At first I was nervous – interrupting someone else’s obsessiveness requires steely resolve and unwavering self belief, but I did the best I could. Gradually Tanya began to relax.
Then, like I always do, I stuffed everything up. The kids are beginning to spread their wings. They want to venture farther afield. Some of us let them ride their bikes or scooters unsupervised as long as they stay on a pre-chosen route which involves no crossing of main roads. They have to check back in with us every half hour. Some of them walk to the shops or go the post office. Others play in the local park which is across the street. It’s hard to let go of them but you have to show them you trust them. It’s a crazy, mixed-up world out there but I want my son to not be afraid of it. So I have to let him try new things bit by bit.
Leo came back to our place this afternoon. The boys wanted to go for a bike ride. We have two bikes and two helmets so that was no problem. The last time Leo visited, Tanya agreed to let the boys ride in the laneway behind our house as long as I supervised. I told them they could ride in the laneway. They asked to go round the block. Just once and then back again. A vision of Tanya fretting popped into my head so I said no. The boys cajoled, whined and threatened me by singing that Rihanna song Umbrella over and over again. (Every time I hear that you can stay under my umbrella, ella, ella, ay, ay I almost lose the will to live.) Like a fool I gave in. “It’s only a bike ride,” said my son.”Just once round the block.”
I thought of calling Tanya first, imagining her face if she were to find Leo lying on the footpath after falling off the bike, but decided a phone call was mirroring her obsessiveness. It was, after all, only a bike ride on the footpath. “Round the block only and come back in ten minutes,” I said. “Leo’s Mum won’t want him to be gone for long.”
The boys had been gone for two minutes when the doorbell rang. It was Tanya. She was an hour early. “I’m sorry to come so early,” she said, “but Leo had a scratchy throat last night and I was worried about him all day. I just can’t wait to see how he is.”
The walk up the hallway was like wading through marshland. The ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece was nearly as loud as the pounding of my heart. Tanya overtook me, running out into the garden, calling out: “Leo. I’m here darling. Leo!”
Her look when she turned to face me was a scene lifted straight from Hitchcock – all lowered brows and angular close-ups. “Where. is. he?” she muttered through clenched teeth. “Look, Tanya, please don’t get upset,” I stammered. “They’ve just gone for a bike ride. I told them to stay on the footpath. They’ll be back in under five minutes. It’s only a bike ride. Once round the block.”
“Only a bike ride! Only a bike ride!” she hollered, grabbing me by the forearms and squeezing. Her screaming filled the garden. She had sharp little teeth like a rabbit. Her grip on my arms was like a tourniquet pulled too tight. I struggled, her grip increased, she was ferocious with worry.
I heard the ‘ding’ of bike bells and the boys came through the back gate and into the garden. They were doing this running gag that my son does where one of them pretends to be a journalist and the other is Paris Hilton. Paris’ response to every question is :”That’s hot.” They were choking with laughter; I was choking with the fear that Tanya had just punctured one of my arteries.
With a flourish Tanya released me. I staggered backwards, falling into a flowerbed. My forearms were bright pink. Without a word, Tanya gathered up Leo’s belongings and left. “I wouldn’t let any harm come to him,” I call out after her. “You know that, don’t you?”
I sit in the flowerbed. I have taken root. My son brings me ice and antiseptic cream. My fingers are twitching with the return of blood flow to my hands. “Leo won’t be allowed to play here anymore, will he, Mum?” asks my son. His eyes are resigned but his lower lip is trembling as if he is about to cry. “Probably not,” I reply. “Nothing ever happens to Leo,” he says. “He’s very sensible. His Mum shouldn’t worry so much, should she?”
“No she shouldn’t,” I say.
As my bruises turn from pink to purple and green I think about the nature of worry. There’s a lot to worry about, let’s face it; once you begin you realise the list of worries is almost endless, so perhaps it’s best not to begin at all. I resolve not to worry anymore but as soon as I make that resolution I think of Leo at 11 years of age, and of how his mother is so afraid of losing him she is pushing him away. And I worry about him walking away from her, sometime in the future, strong enough to emerge without any bruises of his own.