There was a period of time, a very brief period, when I thought I only needed to see my kids through to a certain point in their lives and then I could stop worrying about them. When they were babies, they were so helpless. They needed us for everything. I was pretty confident in my ability to change diapers, feed them well, and cuddle them enough that they would know without a doubt that they were loved. But I worried when things were beyond my control, like when they were sick. Every fever put me in a panic until we had it under control. When they were toddlers, they became more mobile, but they weren’t steady in their bodies yet. I worried they would hurt themselves when they were just out of my reach. Sometimes they did. They grew into more confident children and I worried when they were out of my sight. I worried they would get hit by a car while out riding their bikes. I worried whether they’d remember about stranger danger. I worried that other kids might hurt their feelings. I worried they’d get injured playing their sports. It didn’t take me long to realize that as we successfully navigated each stage of their growth, a new stage and a new set of worries was right there to replace the ones I’d tackled.
The trick was to learn to manage my worries in a healthy manner. I knew I could worry myself into a frenzy, yet 99% of the stuff I fretted about might never happen. I certainly didn’t want to ruin every happy moment with a constant sense of fear and I think I’ve managed a pretty good balance. Then again, maybe some of the nightmares in my head would actually transpire. Lord knows our kids endured just enough of the kind of problems that would validate my need to be a bit overprotective at times. Losing our six year-old at a major amusement park, watching an emergency room doctor stop the flow of blood pouring from my young daughter’s forehead, heck, watching the news, all were enough to ensure that I’d never again fully let my guard down. Thankfully, we survived and learned from even the worst pitfalls our kids ever endured. We’re lucky.
Now that my kids are young adults, I still worry about them, but for different, maybe bigger reasons now. They’re out of my grasp now and I can only hope that we’ve equipped them with the ability to make decisions that are in their own best interest.
I pray that none of them will ever have to suffer a broken heart.
I hope that they will each find ways to be financially stable in life.
I want them to have good friendships and healthy relationships.
I want them to be happy.
And I want my kids to be safe. I probably worry about their safety more than anything these days. It’s their being on the road that scares me the most. They live on their own and have adult lives and jobs now. They don’t have to ask my permission to come and go anymore, although I’m grateful that they give me the courtesy of letting me know their plans when they’re staying under my roof. They travel in cars to places far and wide. Brad and Heather drive four hours just to get here from where they live. Kacey’s college is an hour and a half away. She comes home and goes back pretty frequently. And I don’t always know when they’re out there. I ask them to let me know when they’re leaving and when they arrive when they’re traveling a substantial distance. They’re so good, and they accommodate my need to know they have “landed” safely. I do a lot of driving myself. I see the kind of idiots that sometimes take up space on the roads. I have reason to worry. And there’s all this technology now. My kids have all proven to be pretty responsible drivers, but there is so much to distract drivers these days.
So I still worry.
Just last week, a coworker asked if I knew her neighbor, Emily. Emily went to the same high school as my kids. She graduated the year after Jake and a year before Kacey. Emily was a senior at a college in Wisconsin. She was driving home from school last week after working a shift at her job. I don’t know the details, only that her car went off the road, down an embankment and into some water. Emily did not survive. Emily’s parents learned of her death only when the police came knocking at their door hours later.
I didn’t know Emily, but the news of her death hit me hard. Her poor parents and family! I honestly don’t know how I could survive the loss of one of my children. How does a parent go on after the death of a child? I suppose you have to, for the sake of the rest of the family. But honestly? I would just want to die myself.
My kids were all out on the roads yesterday and last night. Brad and Heather left here to spend the rest of the weekend with her parents, an hour or so away. Jake went out with friends last night. Kacey did too. The house was quieter than it had been in days and I plunked myself down in the living room for the evening, not sure what to do with myself. As I watched a movie, Mark came in to join me. He switched off the lamp and plunked down in a chair to watch with me. As we sat in the dark with only the glow of the television and Christmas tree for light, I noticed a plinking sound against the front windows.
What are you looking at? Mark asked, seeing me peering out the window.
Trying to see the snow, I murmured, squinting to try to catch a glimpse of it under the rays of the street light on the corner.
That’s not snow. See? The windows are wet, he explained.
Yeah. The news said it was gonna rain tonight. What’s wrong?
What was wrong is that we’ve had terrible cold weather here for the past few days. And now it was raining. And then it was going to get terrible cold again. What was wrong is that I was envisioning ice on the roads. And my kids were out there. And I was thinking of Emily.
I didn’t know it was supposed to rain, I said. I don’t like the kids being out at night when the roads are going to be icy.
I stared out the window some more and worried. Figuring the kids were each at their destinations by that point anyway, I whipped off a text message to each of them, warning them of the rain and probability of icy roads. I asked them to be very cautious.
Mark slipped away and went back downstairs to the family room. I figured he wasn’t into the movie I was watching, but a few minutes later, he returned.
I just called both Jake and Kacey. I told them to come home.
Okay, I said, grateful that he’d taken the initiative. Our kids are adults, and technically, we can tell them what to do as long as they’re staying under our roof. But they’re good people and have proven to be pretty responsible. I wouldn’t have thought to call them and insist they come home. Still, I was glad Mark did. Kacey showed up not long afterwards and I thanked her for coming back home without arguing.
I didn’t even know it was raining, she said. And I wouldn’t have wanted to be out dropping friends off all over the place a couple of hours from now when it’s really bad. I’m glad Dad made me come home. And my friends were all cool with it.
Jake came home about a half an hour later. Mark had left for work by then. I thanked Jake too for coming home. It’s fine, he said. The roads aren’t really that bad right now, but it’s fine. I had him call Mark to let him know he was home safe too. Jake went off to his room while Kacey and I watched a movie of her choosing. I felt so much less anxious knowing they were safe and not out on the roads with nasty weather conditions. I would sleep peacefully that night.
This morning, I thanked the kids again. I explained that I worry about them, especially with this extreme winter we’ve been having. I said I couldn’t stop thinking about Emily and I was just really grateful that they came home without questioning us. They assured me again that it was no big deal.
Later this morning, Brad called me. I knew he was going to go ice fishing this morning with Heather’s dad and try out the new portable ice house Heather got him for Christmas.
What’s up? Brad asked.
Not much. Just cleaning, I said. How about you?
Well, I just wanted to let you know something. I’m okay, but…
“I’m okay, but…” Those words scared me. I’ve heard them before. I felt myself tense up in anticipation of what was to come next.
… Brian and I were in a rollover this morning. But we’re both okay. I’m fine.
Instant panic set in, in spite of Brad’s reassurances that he was fine. I asked what happened and he explained that they were coming home from fishing. As Brian prepared to make a left turn, less than a mile from home, they hit a patch of ice and the truck rolled over into a ditch. The side airbags deployed and Brad insisted that neither of them had a scratch on them. The truck landed upright and Brian was even able to drive out of the ditch and drive the short distance back home. Seems the only casualty was Brad’s new ice house. Still, I couldn’t help crying.
I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to make you cry.
No, I’m glad you told me and it’s not your fault I’m crying. I just worry about you when you’re away from me, and I’ve been thinking so much about Emily and I can’t help myself. Promise me you’ll let me know you’re still okay tomorrow. And let me know when you leave for home and when you get there.
Brad said he was a bit shaken up and might take an extra day off from work and wait out the nasty cold that’s about to hit the state before he and Heather head back to Fargo. I was relieved to hear it, but it was still hard to hang up. I wanted to go to him, but Kacey reminded me that if the roads were slick enough for this accident to happen, it didn’t make much sense for me to drive up there in the same conditions when Brad was really okay. I had to agree, she was right. I’ve said many a prayer of thanks today that my son came through the accident unscathed. Kacey said Brad must have an angel on his shoulder. Maybe she’s right. But I still won’t ever stop worrying.