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Looking for danger

My sons love to make fun of me, especially when I am being ridiculous or just when I am doing the "parent" thing.

On a long car trip in recent months, they passed their time making fun of my tendency to warn them of pending dangers. Paranoid and overprotective, like the best of parents, I admit I call up one phrase far too often. Forgetting that my sons are now strapping teen-agers teetering on the adult world and its attendant responsibilities, I sometimes resort to the warning I uttered to them hundreds of times a day when they were toddlers.

"That could be dangerous," I tell them.

When they were babies together, they sometimes hurled heavy cans from the kitchen cupboard at each other or rolled them down the hallway like bowling balls while I stood at the stove watching.

"That could be dangerous," I'd patiently intone, just as one of them took a 12-ouncer in the ankle and collapsed in tears.

When they were a little bit older, tall and coordinated enough for their chubby legs to propel low-riding motorcycles called Big Wheels, their favorite game was to race in a line down the rock-studded slope at the side of our lawn into the heavily forested back yard.

"That could be dangerous," I'd say when I heard them rumbling downhill, turning just in time to grab the front rider's wheel before he hit a tree head-on.

"That could be dangerous," I told them when they pointed their toy screwdrivers at an actual electrical outlet or hung their huge heads over a stone wall with a 20-foot drop, balancing on their round bellies, their short legs peddling the air behind their upthrust bottoms.

Now, though they are not actually faced with so many day-to-day hazards, at least not to body and limb, the world itself looms more and more dangerous.

On our road trip, when the driver behind me began madly tailgating me, trying to get me to go faster in a freezing winter fog, I directed my soon-to-be drivers' eyes to the rear of the car and warned them: "That could be dangerous."

"No joke, mom," one of them retorted sarcastically, "getting rear-ended by a speeding car -- that could be dangerous."

"Yeah," laughed another. "Sliding off the road at 65 miles per hour? That could be dangerous."

"Duh," added the third.

Then they took full advantage of me and my well-intentioned warning.

"Man, crashing in a speeding car and getting brutally mauled ... " one of them began.

" ... THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!" howled the other two.

"Riding your bike with your eyes closed and no hands ... "

" ... THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!"

"Eating unmarked substances ... " I yelled, wanting to play.

" ... THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!" they repeated. Clearly we were in deep West Texas and bored out of our gourds, resorting to this new, perverse car game.

"Running into a deer on the Interstate highway ... " a brother chanted.

" ... THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!" a waiting chorus replied. My eyes frantically searched the roadside for wandering wildlife.

It got worse.

"Overdosing on drugs ... "

"THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!"

Now, whenever I'm giving them the third degree about who is driving on a Saturday night, how old the driver is, whether he or she has a good driving record, my sons turn my concern into our sick little game. "Ooh," they'll say, looking to one another for conspiratorial acknowledgment. "Riding in a car with a dumb-ass driver ... "

"THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!"

Eating dinner, one of them will lift up a steak knife in Psycho fashion.

"Stabbing your brother with a steak knife ... " he teases, wild-eyed.

"THAT COULD BE DANGEROUS!"

It's all in good fun, and it's all aimed at letting me know that they actually do have some semblance of judgment, that they are alert to danger and aware of its presence, that I no longer need to point out every little danger to them.

But in my heart, I still do.

Playing hockey, driving a car, I think, those could be dangerous. Wandering around in a herd, intoxicated by friendship, just as I did when I was their age, that could be dangerous. Falling in love, I think, that could be dangerous. Living in a fast-paced country where angry people with pent-up anger drive cars and carry weapons, living in a world at war -- that could be dangerous.

There's no escaping it and the need to say it will probably never diminish: Growing up. That could be dangerous.

--kathryn@csindy.com

This column ran previously in the February 7-13, 2002, Independent.

  • Looking for danger

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