Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Terror of Being a Parent

"Grief is the price we pay for loving." - Queen Elizabeth II

Recently, the New York Times reported the tragic death of a toddler in New York who was killed by a stray bullet while his mother was taking him to visit relatives for Easter. The child was not walking or sitting in a carriage, but was instead strapped into a child safety seat inside the family van, which was in motion when the bullet struck.

The bullet was the result of the usual moronic street argument between a couple of evolutionary throwbacks who saw gunfire as a means of resolving a dispute.

In the past (pre-parenthood), upon hearing such awful news, I would experience a wave of sympathy for the grieving parents. Since becoming a father, my response to such tragedies has changed. Sympathy has been replaced by a stab of empathetic pain.

There is a terrible irony in the way this child died. Family vans & safety chairs are supposed to be special shields of invulnerability, weapons devised by our modern ingenuity to help us avoid or diminish the ominpresent dangers of this too imperfect and frequently sinister world. With this latest catastrophe, it's as if evil itself evolved, like a virus, to circumvent our latest defenses.

When you become a parent, you realize the world is ruled by rough magic--that small, wonderful infuriating creatures actually do exist, but that they can be snatched away at any time by forces dark and malevolent. The tools at your disposal--small bottles of mashed, carefully cooked food, the plugs for electrical outlets, the protective latch on the car seat--are like charms used to ward off evil spirits.

Yet despite, the dark and scary wood one must traverse as a parent, I do not regret setting out on it. Come what may, my life is the richer for it.