Nothing’s gonna happen, Mom. Don’t worry.
It’s a constant refrain from my children, especially as they get older. They are most probably right. 99% of the time, they are probably right.
But I’m a mother. I worry about the other 1%.
It started early in pregnancy when I worried my son was epileptic. It turns out he had the hiccups. When his noggin seemed too bobble-headed big for his body, I worried he suffered from dwarfism. It turns out he just had a big head.
We mothers worry. We worry about the big and the small, about the everyday and the horror movie stuff.
I just sent my eldest off to an international football tournament. As I watched the bus pull away I had to first get past the Marvel Avenger level worries: the bus will be engulfed in a huge fireball! Aliens will land and demand their brains! The driver is really an enemy agent and has a dastardly plan to sell them all into slavery! Then I had to swallow the more humdrum worries: he’ll be homesick, he’ll score an own-goal and want to sink into the Earth, some giant twelve-year-old who is already shaving will step on him, he’ll get a stomach bug.
I’m 99.9% sure none of that is going to happen.
But I’m a mother. I worry about the other .01%.
O children of ours! Forgive our mother brains for the looney-tune crazy places they go at times. We read a news story on People and worry you’ll get cancer. We worry we’ll get cancer and leave you, which is a whole different level of worry. We worry you’ll be kidnapped or attacked or molested or disappear into nothingness like the children in all those television shows on BBC.
We worry you’ll be teased or have no one to play with or not get invited to the birthday party everyone else is going to. We worry you’ll struggle, you’ll get Bubonic Plague, you’ll get picked last for the team. We worry your fever will never go away but keep going up and up and up until you spontaneously combust. We worry your heart will get smashed. We worry you will be lonely, alone, frightened or confused.
We worry we won’t be there when you need us.
If you delve deep enough, dig to the heart of the 1%, reach the core of the statistically unlikely, there is one simple, common fear. All those crazy mother worries boil down to one thing.
I won’t be there when you need me.
Whether it’s to rescue you from a fireball or an asteroid hurtling toward earth or to kiss your scratched-up knee and tell you it will feel better soon.
O children of ours, it’s why we sometimes seem a wee bit obsessive. Why we insist you call us when you get somewhere or text us to make sure you’ve arrived. It’s why we can seem unreasonable about the food you eat. Because sometimes in that twisted mother brain, not eating your carrot sticks directly translates into a lifetime of health issues and you needing a kidney transplant while we stand over you and fret.
It’s why we make you wear a helmet on your skateboard even when you’re just going down the block. Why we compulsively check your breathing when you’re sleeping soundly. Why we drill safety instructions into you. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t skateboard along railroad tracks, don’t cycle through yellow lights, don’t text and drive, don’t play with matches.
Because any mother’s biggest nightmare lies in the .001%. Something will happen to you. Something horrible or dreadful or even just slightly uncomfortable. The depth of concern varies, the whats run the gamut between the mundane and the unthinkable, but the heart of it is essentially the same.
I won’t be there when you need me.
I know my kids are right. Your kids are right. 99% of the time there’s nothing to worry about. 99.9% of the time it’ll be just fine.
But I’m a mother. I worry about that other 1%.
4 Comments Add yours
Yes, yes, YES. Just yesterday I almost broke into tears over RETROACTIVE worry and despair that I hadn’t been there six years ago when our oldest came down with swine flu, ten hours from home at her new university and one week into her freshman year (and then mono her sophomore year and depression her senior year). That gut-wrenching feeling over not being there never ends! And the admonition I always sent my son out the door with was “Don’t do stupid things!” That seemed to cover it, though it didn’t always help.
Exactly. And mostly it’s an irrational fear, but oh, is it powerful!
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Difficult as it may be, you have to let some mistakes happen. Dealing with mistakes is a life skill. I’ve known more than a few 22 years olds who grew up in hyper protective environments, who severely crashed and burned upon living away from Mom and Dad. They simply didn’t have appropriate fear or common sense, the type of fear and common sense that comes from the experiences of dealing with stinky moments. Your offspring need to have some bad outcomes, to learn, and better to have them happen when you can help as needed.
I agree with you 100%. And I promise you, I do not tell them of my fears of fireballs engulfing busses. Doesn’t stop me from having them though 🙂