K likes to ask very thought-provoking questions of me on occasion. Usually, they are head scratchers…what was your best day? What music influences you? What’s your favorite memory from high school? What are you most proud of? I don’t know where she gets them, but it seems like she has a new one every weekend. This week was “What was your scariest day?”
I don’t know what she was expecting, but “the day I took you guys to the squishy playground” was not it.
The “squishy playground,” as the kids have always called it, is situated in Buffalo Harbor State Park, about five minutes from my house. They call it such because instead of woodchips or gravels, the playground floor is a squishy material that cushions falls. One would assume this would provide an added level of safety and comfort for the worrisome parent. One would be wrong.
It so happened, one day, that Mark had to work on a Saturday when we had the kids. He tries not to pick up such hours, but it was mandatory, so he went in and I was alone with the kiddos. M wanted to go to the park. All the others chimed in, begging for me to take them.
What they did not realize is that I had never taken them anywhere before, alone. Mark was always there, often also boosted by my parents or aunts or sister. I figured there would be no harm…after all, it is the squishy playground. So, I loaded them into the car and off we went.
When we got there, I perched on a bench with a book and let them do their thing. All was well until I hear someone call my name and find M atop a climbing structure that had to be 15 feet off the ground. That was the first instance of panic. He was so proud of himself, and I smiled and gave him a thumbs up, but inside I was screaming. “GET DOWN. GET THE FUCK DOWN.” He did, safely, and I told him he did a good job even though I wanted to throttle him for scaring me like that.
E says “let’s go for a walk.” There’s a path that goes along the water, for walking and biking and such, so I figure there’s nothing wrong with a little stroll and let her lead the way. Again, all was well until I hear “Brig! Look!” and turn to find L climbing on the rock wall that separated the path and the lake. Naturally, the other three kids scramble to join him. Again, I smile and give a thumbs up, but inside…”OMGOMGOMG…the girls can’t swim. It’s too deep. There’s no way out. I’m going to have to jump in. What if they crack their head on a rock? Should I take my shoes off? Should I yell at them to get off the rocks? They’re having fun…I don’t want to be the evil stepmother. OMGOMGOMG someone’s going to die…”
There was a big hill across from the rocks, so I remembered the old childcare trick of redirection, and suggested that it would be fun to roll down. All four kids agreed, and raced to the top of the hill. They rolled a few times. I smiled and thumbs upped and secretly prayed no one would snap a bone on the descent. But at least they were no longer by the water.
Afterwards, we went back to the car so we could go pick up Mark. I thought to myself that I had survived the scary day, where I was on edge the whole time while they were having a ball. Then, E. “I’m itchy.” The darling girl is always pointing out anything that bothers her, from a miniscule paper cut to a big bruise, so I shrugged it off at first. Then, K agrees. Then L. Then M.
By the time we get home they have rashes. My best guess is that they recently sprayed that hill with pesticide. I made all the kids shower, freaking out because I broke my one rule “You will be returned to your mother in the condition in which you were delivered.”
When I told K this story, she didn’t find it particularly scary. Well, you’re not a parent, kid. Worse, you’re not a step-parent, which brings with it a whole host of possible faux pas. It’s like walking a minefield, at least it was in the early days. Now, I’m a little more attune at seeing the traps. But then, I was terrified. The only time I had been alone with the kids at that point was in the safety of our house. Taking them out into the world was a whole other ordeal. I started to wonder if birth parents feel the same, constantly worried about worst case scenarios befalling their children. Nope, not for me…another nail in the coffin of reproduction, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s a few years later and I have spent time outside the house with all the kiddos, and I don’t worry like I did that day. But to say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the whole time is a lie. I was terrified.
So no, K, I don’t have a scary ghost story, or some terrifying trauma that I can call my scariest day. Just a day at the park with my kiddos, that I was certain would end with a trip to the ER. It didn’t, and I was grateful, but that fear remained. I think a lot of step-parents share these fears. It wasn’t like it is when I nanny…I do not fear the loss of children who don’t belong to me in the way I do the kiddos. That’s not to say I haven’t had some scary moments with other people’s kids…I certainly have. I just seem to know how to deal with them, on instinct. Like a job, because it is one. But your own children are different. Would I jump in front of a car to save a charge? Yes. But would I beat the shit out of the driver after, should I still be able to walk? No. That’s just for my kiddos.
Anyway, I love them. They have terrified me on occasion, but I love them so much that this terror is a result of that. K and her questions intrigue me, but this particular one really gave me an almost visceral flashback. I really don’t think I can illustrate to you the sheer terror and worry I felt that day. You’re just going to have to take my word for it.