The first time I seriously contemplated murder was when my son was four weeks old. I walked into my room, where he was sleeping soundly in his cot, to discover his tiny face peppered with red, swelling mosquito bites. The mozzie responsible was flitting and buzzing above his head.
“Kill it.” The voice in my head was cold, rational, certain.
It’s not that I’d never killed a mosquito before. It was that I’d never done it with such complete and forceful determination before. Never contemplated the act of it, and decided it was completely justified.
The single-mindedness of it caught me by surprise. Instead of swatting a bug with a unthinking nonchalance, I’d done it in dedication to a purpose.
Because this was my baby, and something was hurting him. In the tired space of a month, protecting my child had become the most intrinsically important role in my life.
The act of protecting your child is primal. There’s no split second where you think about, no moment of indecision where you decide whether or not to act on your instinct. There’s no sense of throwing yourself into action because you ‘should’, or because you’re expected to and it’s your job.
You just do it. Without hesitation, nor risk assessment. With little regard for your own wellbeing. The ramifications to those around you are inconsequential in the act of ensuring your child is not hurt.
I’m waiting with the Chop for school to begin one cold Melbourne morning, when I witness this phenomenon in its fullness. Another mum who I trade smiles and “How are you?” murmurs with each morning was standing, chatting amidst a group of other parents participating in the ritual of school drop-off. She always has her toddler with her, a sweet, active little girl of maybe two years old. A sweet, active little girl who, while her mum was otherwise distracted, wandered off, toward the direction of the school gate and the blistering, uncaring main road beyond it.
Another parent spotted her first, and raised the alert. “Your daughter!” she called, “She’s….”
There wasn’t time to get another word out, because this little girl’s mum was up and running. The sentence she was half way through speaking was left hanging in the air, unfinished. Her eyes popped wide with that sudden cold flush of panic you feel when you realise your child is not there, where you thought they were, within that suitable, controllable space they’d been just seconds beforehand.
The mother began to run, and, as she did, her foot caught in the strap of one of the dozen school bags laying spread out on the path like discarded toys. Her knees hitting the concrete sounded like wincing and grazes, stinging layers of skin removed underneath her stockings. It must have hurt, and everyone who witnessed it knew this- we all leaned in and forward, ready to help her up and rub the bruised ego away.
There was no need for that, no time for a chorus of concerned tuts and clucking “Are you okay?”s. The moment her knees connected with the ground, she was up again, running, without a pause and barely a break in her stride.
She disappeared around the corner of a building, toward the road toward her daughter. She caught her, of course, walked her back to where they’d been standing. Stooped to rub her own poor, bruised legs. Spoke to her daughter in a voice full of relieved recriminations- “Please don’t run away from mummy, you scared me very much!”
The encounter echoed out with that peculiar feeling most parents recognise- the sweetest relief, the cascading surety that your child is fine, after things could have gone very, very badly. The numbing lull that comes a few moments after your mind has run through every possible disaster that could have happened, and, on this occasion, didn’t happen. The warm coursing syrup of having successfully done your job and protected your babies, despite the pain and discomfort it may have caused.
It’s purely biological. It’s what we’re designed to do. But saying that seems to nullify the power within it.
There’s something brave and real about protecting your children, without even the most fleeting thought for yourself.