Who doesn’t walk home on the train tracks at night?

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I was thinking about this last night on my way home from a meeting. Not the silly part about hurting yourself on a treadmill (although, Maude knows that seems to be true, too) but the part about how risk taking has changed for me over the years. What constitutes a risk has changed for me, not only as I’ve aged but since I had a child.

I took a bunch of stupid risks when I was younger. Most of them were of the sort that put my physical safety in jeopardy: walking home late at night on the train tracks, or through the park, that sort of thing. (Interestingly, you couldn’t have paid me to walk through a neighborhood of fraternity houses on a night they were all throwing parties – mob mentality has always made me nervous.) I walked with my keys tucked into my fingers, and paid very close attention to sounds and my surroundings figuring I would be fine. I didn’t think what I was doing was safe exactly, but like my dad always used to say, “The young, they think they are invincible!” Looking back, sometimes, I guess I was pretty sure I was invincible. (I mean really? Train tracks alone at 3am? Holy shit was I dumb.)

About 3 months after Kidlet was born, he and I were driving home from a friend’s house. It was December so 9pm was DARK, and I remember the night being kind of chilly. About 2 minutes into the 10 minute drive home kidlet started screaming from the back seat. I wanted to stop so I could make sure he was okay, and only yelling because that’s what he did in the car seat. And I remember thinking to myself, I need to stop somewhere where I will be safe. Where there is a lot of light, and hopefully people. I wasn’t on some desolate back road 20 miles from the nearest house, I was driving through a populated  neighborhood.

I chose to pull into a shopping plaza where there was a grocery store that was likely to have people coming and going. I found an area of the parking lot that was brightly lit, and put the car in park. I sat for a second, worried about getting out of the car with the car running to check Kidlet in the back seat; What if someone tried to steal the car? He would go with it. But I didn’t want to turn the car off because I wanted to keep the heat running, etc.  While these thoughts plowed through my head I also thought, Woah. This is a whole new level of feeling like a target. All of a sudden I realized that keeping myself and him safe had become an imperative. It had gone from being a good idea to something that must be done.

And this popped into my head last night while I was driving around trying to find a parking spot. Where’s the risk? I was looking for a spot that wasn’t more than a block or two from where I was going, and on a street that was well lit, without lots of shadows. And then again when I was walking back to the car, where’s the risk? I decided to walk in the middle of the street instead of on the sidewalk because streetlights point into the road and not onto the sidewalks, so there was a lot of light in the road, whereas the sidewalk was relatively dark.

My sense of risk intersects more aggressively now with what it means to be female. With what it means to be short. With what it means to not be in the best physical shape of my life. With what it means to wear glasses. With what it means to be a parent. All kinds of things that I gave minimal thought to when I was 25.

So, take risks now! Just don’t take stupid ones.

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