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Knock on Wood

Like most parents, I love it when someone compliments my son.

And I won’t lie; the very best kind of compliments are the kind that make reference to my parenting abilities, whether they’re merited or not.

Graham happily eats everything he’s ever been offered? That’s because you ate so well when you were pregnant. Graham slept through the night at six weeks? That’s because you’ve been so calm and consistent with him. Graham’s happy and good-natured? That’s because you and Rob are so easy-going.

Ah, what could be more soothing than the warm balm of self-delusion?

Because the truth is, as much as I might luxuriate in remarks like those, I know it would be disingenuous to take even an ounce of credit for what amounts to just plain old good luck.

Human beings, blessed as they are with self-determination, don’t like to think that their fortunes, good or bad, are a result of something as capricious as luck. When things go wrong, we look for someone to blame. When things are good … well, we must be doing something right.

Especially when it comes to our children, the idea that luck is most often the determining factor in whether babies will be easy or difficult, or more importantly, sick or healthy, is not just anathema, it’s downright terrifying.

For the most part, we expect things to go well for us here in the First World in the year 2008. We are armed with knowledge our ancestors never dreamed about and, rightfully so, we use it to try and mitigate the risks that other people in other countries and other times accepted as part and parcel of child-rearing and life in general.

We sterilize baby bottles and toys, we baby-proof our houses from top to bottom, we pay outrageous sums of money for high-tech protective devices like SIDS monitors and video cameras.

We stir vitamins in oatmeal and obsess about every morsel of food that passes our children’s lips. We rush to the internet to research every rash, every bump, and every upset stomach. We call the doctor when the cough lingers or the nose continues to run or they just don’t seem like themselves.

But beneath all this tending and protecting, aren’t we mostly just hoping and praying?

Hoping fervently that our kids won’t be the ones in the hospital ads that make us cry. Praying that our child will never be the subject of a heartbreaking story on the evening news. Whispering “There but by the grace of god go I” every time we hear that life has dealt a losing hand to some other parent, some other child.

I have always said that having a child is not for people who like to play it safe. In giving birth, we give the universe the power to enrich our life immeasurably or shatter it irrevocably. No matter how great your effort, parenthood is a crapshoot and every one of us knows it.

Graham was an easy baby. Graham is healthy. Parenting Graham has been a relatively smooth ride.

And while I’m happy to gobble up all the compliments on parenting that come my way, deep down I know I’m just lucky, lucky, lucky.

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