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Monday, May 22, 2000

I had a bit of a scare at the post office this morning. I leave the house once a day and almost maim a small child. I'm staying in tomorrow, I think.

Maybe I should have been more alert, but the two toddlers were not near the door when I came in. It's one of those heavy post office type doors that close slowly but firmly, and as I was opening my mailbox I heard a woman yelling at her children to stay by her side. Then I heard one of the kids scampering behind me, and then the mother was running toward the door, shouting something incomprehensible. It seems that in trying to escape the two-year-old had managed to get himself wedged in the door as it was closing.

Fortunately, he was stocky enough that his body kept the door from slamming on him very hard. In fact, he wasn't hurt or even scared until his mother's panicky reaction made him realize what was happening. That's when he started crying.

I'm sure the mother had visions of her child being seriously injured. She might keep him a little closer to her for a while, which wouldn't be a bad idea anyway. As for me, I had a moment of fear and anxiety about what might have happened. I don't think it would have been my fault if something serious had occurred, but I do think I would have blamed myself anyway. It's not as if the kid was standing in the doorway waiting for some inattentive adult to release him, but I try to be aware of these kinds of things.

I'm usually pretty good about watching out for other people's kids. Some people have even gone so far as to trust me to take care of their children, at least for brief periods. That's usually a safe thing to do, because when I'm in charge I worry, and when I worry I stay alert and focused. I'd be overprotective as a parent, but that's not a bad quality in a sitter. It keeps kids from getting slammed in doorways, most of the time.

This moment in the post office today could have gone by without even registering on my radar. Some people wouldn't think twice about something that didn't really happen, or wasn't as bad as it might have been. Not me. I run through all potential scenarios, starting from the worst case and working my way back from there.

I could make a case, for example, that getting trapped in the door was a good thing. If he'd made it through, he might have darted into the parking lot. The lot at the post office consists of two rows of parking spaces separated by a narrow lane which invites drivers to back into each other. This heightens the tension that flows naturally on a hot day when there's more traffic than you think you should have to deal with. Once you manage to back out of your space and get your car pointed toward the exit, you might feel justified in ramming down the gas pedal before someone else has a chance to back into you. You might not see the little boy dash out from between two parked cars, right into your path. If, that is, he didn't get stuck in the door jamb.

I didn't say anything to the frazzled mother. I'd never presume, not being a parent myself, to judge anyone who has to be responsible for a child's well-being all day every day. (Actually, this has more to do with the fact that I never, ever give unsolicited advice to anyone about anything.) What parent has any reason to listen to anything I might have to say? I'll have to admit, though, that I don't think I could stand by and let a child be hurt, by a parent or anyone else. I've never been tested, but I think I'd do the right thing.

Obviously, this frightening but ultimately harmless incident has stayed with me all day. I'm a chronic worrier, and I've never been able to escape from that obsessive part of my personality. The best I can do is be aware of the tendency and try to talk myself into calming down and seeing the bigger picture. The more familiar I am with the circumstances I worry about, the more likely I am to take things as they come. Having been to the dentist in March, I'm less anxious about my next visit, which is (shudder) Wednesday morning at 10:10 AM.

I've tried to take life as it comes, without thinking about what might be or what might have been. Sometimes I can do that, especially if there are people around to remind me that most of the situations I invent in my mind never come to pass in the real world. Left to my own imagination, I can make demons come to life.

Update: I almost got out into the backyard today, but when I put my hand on the sliding glass door handle, my arm started to itch. It was obviously a warning, so I stepped back from the door and admired my yard through the glass, as I now believe we were meant to do.

Lookin' out my back doorLocked!
Lookin' out my back door.Locked!

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