Izzy looked serious for a few moments, then gazed up at me beaming. “Daddy, I did it”, she squeaked. “You’re kidding,” I replied. “No, did it. I get off now.” And she did, and there it was: proof that my little girl was growing up.
“Yay – go Izzy”, I shouted, like an American at a baseball game, and our palms met in a triumphant “Hi-Five”. “I wee-weed in the potty”, she reminded first me, then everyone she met for the next hour. As she was spending the morning at my office, that was a lot of people to impress. A major milestone finally passed: nothing could signify more strongly the passing of her babyhood.
It’s exciting, yet seeing your child grow up is a bitter-sweet experience. As each tie of parental dependence severs, the more vulnerable she appears. How do little humans actually survive life without us? They’ll be reading next, then crossing the road, then having boyfriends. Before Jo and I know it, we’ll be discussing universities and, eventually, her moving out.
The truth is, humans are the only species in the animal kingdom where offspring are never truly allowed to quit the nest. I know that my Mum, 90, still worries desperately about me, 59, as much as I worry about Ben, 30 this week (another milestone), let alone tiny Izzy, 2, who’s head barely reaches my knees. The thought that anything might happen to any of my kids makes me physically wretch.
I remember the near misses: like Ben’s scooter accident in Barcelona. The call from his friend, whose voice failed to conceal the panic, the rush to the airport, the sight of his blood-covered face on the stretcher outside the operating theatre. Of course I’d warned of the dangers of bike-riding, and I’d always refused to buy him one. What else could a Dad have done? You know how headstrong youngsters are.
So I can’t begin to imagine the grief of Mitch and Janis Winehouse. They’ve watched helplessly as their beloved daughter self-destructed. In 2008 Mitch gave that sad, resigned television interview: “She won’t die of a drug overdose, that’s too quick. She would die from emphysema, if she didn’t check her behaviour, a slow, painful death, gasping for air.” How could they have saved their (in Stephen Fry’s words) “poor, unhappy creature”?
The fact is, no amount of parental vigilance can guarantee a child’s protection from cruel Fate. Over in Norway, 150 parents are in mourning, their children stolen from them by the madness of an evil fanatic.
It’s impossible to describe the excruciating, eternal agony of the loss of a child. I simply can't imagine the pain of one of my wife’s friends who, a few days ago, took her beautiful son, just nine months' old, to childcare. An hour later, she received a phone call that froze her blood: he’d stopped breathing. An only child, his tiny light was snuffed out without warning or explanation. For his poor parents, it’s the start of an unbearable, inconsolable torment. That’s why this weekend we’ve been hugging little Izzy even more than usual.
It’s a cliché to say that life is fragile, fraught with risk. But we’re treasuring every tiny moment as she grows up to face her own uncertain world.