Dear Jack and Charlie,

In general, it does no good to dwell on what could have happened, especially when what could have happened would have been something extremely terrible.  If I had the choice, I would much rather focus on the fact that the accident did not happen and leave it at that.  Sometimes, though, my mind insists on speeding down the what-if spiral and I stay wide awake at night torturing myself with morbid thoughts.

Over the weekend, our next door neighbors had a yard sale.  There were lots of stuff all over their front yard.  In particular, there were two shelves leaned against the garage door.  Because no buyer looked at these shelves, they did not seem to exist.  I looked at them, noted their size (they were almost the size of the garage door) and did not at all wonder how stable they were.  At around noon, your papa and I had practically forgotten about you both and let you run around the neighbors’ front yard, unsupervised.  I had just gotten back from our garage when I thought to look for Jack.  I scanned the neighbors’ front yard and saw Jack in front of one of the shelves.  He was fiddling with one of the drawers.  It was only then, with little Jack standing so close to the giant shelves, that I realized the danger the shelves posed.  The shelves protested at Jack’s fiddling and started to tip over.  I called out, “oh!” and Jack looked in my direction with a scowl on his face.  Something, I don’t know what, made him retreat from the shelves.  Did he see terror on my face?  Was it the hair on his body reacting to the sudden change in the air, triggering his defense mechanism?  Whatever it was, it prompted Jack to turn and waddle super fast away from the shelf.  In his haste, he fell on the ground.  As a result, the shelf missed hammering his head.  It was as if the moves were timely choreographed.  Fortunately, there was a sturdy table in the middle of the driveway and it somehow caught the top of shelf, preventing it from totally crashing on Jack who was now lying prone on the ground.  The second shelf then crashed next to Jack, missing him by a few inches.  Jack looked up, dazed, but safe in the tight small space between the shelves.  Jack could have broken an arm or a leg or his back or a hand or something.  The shelves could have cracked his head.  Jack could have died.

Since this (non)event, I have spent the last few nights freaking myself out with thoughts on what could have happened.  I start out with this shelf incident and then, because I can’t help it, I start to remember many other times when I have so poorly assessed the risks.  The particular one that does not fail to make my heart skip a beat when I think of it is of Charlie playing with the waves at Monterey Beach.

Last December, my friends and I went to Monterey Beach.  We decided to bring our kids with us.  At the beach, Charlie played catch with the waves at the water’s edge.  Meanwhile, my friends and I stood a few feet away from the water’s edge and marveled at the ferocity of the waves in the distance.  “Oh my God, those waves look so big and scary,” we said to each other again and again each time a monster wave reared its head and crashed.  The whole time Charlie was playing, I kept thinking to myself that it probably was not safe to let him play so close to the water even though the waves looked harmless.  Charlie looked like he was having such a blast that I let him play with the waves some more.  And then it happened, quickly and quietly:  a wave from nowhere knocked him down, drenched him from head to toe.  I strode in to drag him out.  The water was knee deep for me when a few seconds before there was nothing.  Charlie could have been sucked in.  Charlie could have died.  Your papa later told me that Monterey Beach is known for its treacherous waves and many, even adults who know how to swim, have been pulled into the water by rogue waves and drowned.  When I think about this, I fall short of breath.

Like I said, at some point, it does no more good to continue dwelling on this kind of near accidents.  However, I think that I dwell on these thoughts from time to time because I have to remind myself of the lessons they’ve imparted.  It has become easier as you boys grow a little older to forget that you are both still clueless about staying safe.  I forget, Charlie, that you’re still only four and a half years old because you seem to know everything.  I forget, Jack, that you’re still only one and a half years old because you insist on doing everything by yourself.  These incidents are sharp reminders to me, as a parent responsible for your safety, to always pay attention to your surroundings, to always assess the situation before letting you loose.  Admittedly, there is a certain degree of risk that I just don’t have any control of despite my hyper vigilance.  But cultivating the habit of risk assessment can’t hurt.

Just another way you boys have shaped my life.

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