More than anything we want our kids safe. Ideally, we’d keep them home behind hurricane-proof windows and walls built of concrete. We’d perform background checks and fingerprint all visitors. We’d encase them in Bubble Wrap™ and force them to wear an extra sturdy helmet. Chances are, we’d still worry about their safety.
Nearly all of my kids are in the early stages of adulthood, and I have bad news to share. The worrying doesn’t end. Ever. Yet I can’t help but chuckle – and feel a bit relieved it’s over! – when I recall the worrying I did when my kids were babies and growing into adulthood. Sometimes I look back and wonder, Did I really worry about THAT? Yes, Wendy, you did.
In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a recap of the stages of parental worry.
The Newborn Worry. We worry, Is the baby still breathing? At 2 a.m. we stick our faces right up to their mouths to see if we can feel their breath. No? We hold a mirror to see if their breath fogs it up. Still not sure? We nudge them until they cry. Yes, we purposely made our babies cry. Okay, they’re breathing and alive. All is good. Now if we could just get them back to sleep. But wait! Should we lay them on their sides, their stomachs or their backs to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome?
The Toddlerhood Worry. Now that our baby has survived that delicate first year we can worry our way through toddlerhood. Choking on grapes and hot dogs. Drowning in the pool. Drowning in the tub. Drowning in the toilet. Cracking open his head on the floor while learning to crawl. Poking her eye out while stumbling into the corner of the coffee table while learning to walk. Eating dog food or any other food off of our dirty kitchen floor or, better yet, off of our garage floor. Sucking on a tube of acrylic paint or snacking on the sawdust pile left in the middle of the floor.
The Grade School Worry: Where to start? We worry about abductions and our kids getting hit by a car if we allow them to venture past our driveway and into the big, bad neighborhood, which, by the way, we chose to move to because it was such a quaint, safe neighborhood.
We worry about leaving our child in the capable hands of academic professionals. We inspect the lunch table and worry because they aren’t spic and span, sparkling clean. First play date without you? Driving in another mother’s car without you? Taking a school field trip without you? Reading? Writing? Arithmetic? Bullying? Pass the Xanax, please.
The Middle School Worry: Puberty, growing pains, and social media. Need I say more? The online and in-your-face bullying is ripe in middle school, and it’s every parent’s nightmare, whether his/her kid is on the giving or receiving end of it. I worried a lot while my kids were in middle school, so much that it’s a blur.
The High School Worry: I can sum it up with these words: Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. You think I’m kidding. I am, sort of, except there’s no reason to worry about rock and roll. There are teenagers without fully developed frontal lobes controlling the fate of a two-ton piece of metal on an open road. There are SATs, ACTs, and college applications. I found my first gray hair during this stage. It was on my chin.
The College Worry: At this point our sons’ and daughters’ safety is out of our hands. We hope they listened to us over the years and will now choose to make good choices. We hope the colleges they attend never fall victim to the violence we’ve seen at other college campuses. We continue to worry. We worry about the parties, the drugs, the hazing and our kids’ ability to juggle a social life with classes.
Then one night we’ll sit back and nurse a glass of wine for three hours because we never were much of a drinker. Our minds will settle and our paranoia will subside. We’ll remember how those dirty lunch tables we worried about years ago didn’t amount to much. Those handfuls of sawdust he shoveled into his mouth required nothing more than a mouth rinsing, followed by a glass of milk to wash down the pesky particles that wouldn’t budge from the first round of rinsing. We’ll acknowledge that other parents are as dependable as we are, and not all teenagers are having sex and doing drugs. We’ll come to terms with the obvious: most of our worrying was for nothing. For that, we will be grateful.