“Promise me you won’t get into a marshutka,” I demanded.
“Okay, I promise,” said Tea. I recognized her tone, her bearing, her whole demeanor. She was exasperated because, as she walked out the door, I bombarded her with questions, warnings, and concerns. Among them: How will you get to the drug store? Do you have your phone? Are you bringing a bag? Make sure he’s breathing okay. Make sure that’s not too tight around his neck. And last, but not least: Promise me you won’t get into a marshutka.
I recognized that exasperation because that’s exactly how my father made me feel every time I walked out of the house. At 28 years old, he still asked me if I had my keys, still told me to be careful traveling, still warned me not to get into trouble with strangers. “Okay, yes, okay” I would say, in that same tone – that “just let me leave the house” tone.
Sometimes I would tell him not to worry. “It’s my job to worry,” my dad would say. “I’m your father.”
Of all the “you’ll understand when you have kids” things, this is probably the first to really hit me. The kid’s not even old enough to talk, and I’m already worrying all the time. I’m surprised, because usually I’m somewhat calm and laid back, and because rationally I know that worrying doesn’t help anything, and because I know how annoying it is to be reminded, every time you leave the house, of a long selection of the million things that can go wrong in a day, like forgetting your keys or being run over by a car or stabbed on the subway. But no, apparently on this I’m following exactly in my father’s footsteps.
So our neighbor’s daughter is three weeks older than Giga, and Tea and the neighbor and Giga and the daughter are currently on their way to the PSP on Chavchavadze. It’s almost an hour walk. It’s not so cold that I’m worried about the cold – actually, I never worry about the baby being cold, only being too hot, because Tea tends to overdress him – but it’s a long enough walk that I worry about her carrying him comfortably (Kutaisi roads are no place for strollers). Marshutkas are disgusting, smelly hellholes on wheels, and while for me it’s just unpleasant, for Giga I mostly worry about him being exposed to second-hand smoke (because the marshutka drivers usually smoke while driving) and to the other atmospheric toxins (mold spores, chemicals, etc) that are probably marinating in those third-rate third-world mobile infestation units that people in this country rely on for transit.
So I’m somewhat fanatical about protecting the kid from second-hand smoke and other airborne dangers. I’m also always concerned with making sure his airways are clear and unobstructed. Theme? Maybe it’s that I’m asthmatic so I worry about his breathing more than is probably necessary. I don’t let anyone put fluffy things over or near his face when he sleeps, and I make sure there’s nothing that could strangle him, including bibs or clothes intended to keep him warm or clean.
Also, there’s this phenomenon that science hasn’t really explained where normal, healthy children between 1 and 12 months of age sometimes die for no apparent reason. This terrifies me. The chance of it happening is about one in a thousand, although if babies are put to sleep only on their backs the chance drops to about one in two thousand. I cannot get Tea to agree to put the baby to sleep only on his back, though, so I’m in the one in a thousand group. (We have had a number of arguments and discussions about this matter, including with our doctors, but to no avail; the baby naps for longer on his stomach, so he naps on his stomach.)
I can’t really comprehend what one in a thousand means in a way that will let me weigh it against the amount of time and effort I spend worrying about it. If I see the baby sleeping, I always go check on him to make sure he’s still breathing. It’s a completely irrational behavior, because if he wasn’t breathing it would already be too late and there wouldn’t be a damned thing I could do about it, but nevertheless I am forever going and feeling his tiny, rapid heartbeat or his little chest expanding and contracting with air.
Twice a week at least I cast about the internet looking for something to reassure me. Today I found a support group for parents whose infant children died for no apparent reason. I was not reassured. The oldest case, in this group, was a girl who was 8.5 months old. I fully expect to spend the next seven or eight months in a constant state of near-panic over this. And if my father is any indication, I will soon find other things to worry about.
When it comes down to it, the world is full of dangers you can’t predict or control. We just do our best. I can’t protect him from this terrible random death thing that science hasn’t explained, but I can protect him from inhaling fumes or being strangled by his own jacket or bib, so my anxiety manifests itself there.
One thing is for sure – I am really, really starting to understand why my father is the way he is. Being rational is one thing. Being rational when it comes to your own children is a completely different animal.
In the time it takes me to write this, they’ve made it back. Guess I can stop worrying… for now.