Mommy in the sky

‘Ouma,’ asks No.2*, ‘what are the chances of mummy’s plane crashing?’

I am going away for a week and a half. My grandmother in Germany is nearing the end of her almost one century of life. I want to see her one more time. I must see her. The passage from vitality into infirmity and then death is too important a process to find excuses not to be there.

And I had excuses in excess. For months I was a little factory of excuses, churning them out like so many cheap toys on an assembly line. Each was calmly countered by No. 1, who remains my voice of sanity when the emotional tumult inside threatens to capsize the flimsy little boat of my reason.

But No. 2 has – in that incisive way of children – voiced my only real reason for not wanting to go: what if I die?

So I turn to my mother to see how she will respond to No.2’s fear, and when she intuits that he speaks for both himself and for me, she spreads her reassurances a little further, and with the sort of love with which she spreads butter on hot toast: lavishly.

‘The chances of mummy’s plane crashing are one in a million,’ she tells us.

Actually, that’s not true. The odds of being killed on a single trip in an airliner accident is 52.6 million to one, according to an apparently reliable source on the internet. The more frequently you fly, the smaller the odds. I am a very infrequent flyer, so I’ll go with the 52.6 million to one chance that I’m going down in flames.

Yet I cannot shake the residues of worry. Not because I have a fear of flying, or crashing, or even death. At least, the fears I have are not debilitating or abnormal. I tend towards the philosophical in these matters: que sera sera and all that. Life – somewhat shockingly – always carries on beyond each disaster and each death, and children survive even the most awful setbacks.

But what I am afraid of about leaving my family for any number of sleeps is that – should my plane crash – I will not be around to console No.2 and No.3. I have sat up against pillows with a light saber in hand to ward off the nocturnal baboon under the bed, and I have bravely swum into the pool first to check for sharks. If I die, I can’t be there to help my brood face The Fears.

And then there’s the converse: what if they get hurt – badly hurt – while I am gone? What if there’s an accident – on the jungle gym, on the road, on the rugby field – while I’m too far to rush to hospital? The bewildering hurrying and waiting of airports that rattle me even when I’m calm will become unbearable. I will maim dithering immigration officials and I will elbow doddering passengers. I will scream at security morons and hurl congealed chicken a la king at stupidly smiling air stewards.

Somewhere between taxi and plane and twenty-thousand feet, somewhere between the knowing about an accident and touching my injured child, I will develop immediate, flailing, frightening lunacy. Until I can touch the skin of their ruddy cheeks, look into their familiar eyes, until I can smell that perfume of them that lives behind their ears, until I can whisper: ‘I am here. We’ll get through this’, I will surely be certifiably deranged.

When I gingerly air my fears to other adults I am dismissed with a universal ‘pfft’. The implication is that I am a clingy, needy mother.

But we, No.2 and No. 3 and I, we know that the world will only be unbroken again when we can see and touch each other every day.

*My family members are numbered in the order in which they appeared in my life.

What are your great parenting fears?
Read more by Karin Schimke
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